Nine Women, One Dress ~ #JNGReads

 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen is an absolutely darling short novel, and one that I wavered between giving 4 stars and 5 stars to. I eventually settled on a 4-star rating, for reasons that I will discuss below, but if I could’ve given it 4.5 stars on Goodreads, I definitely would have. It was just lovely!

Nine Women, One Dress chronicles several different love stories, from both the female and male characters’ perspectives. It is written in short bursts of text which resemble newspaper or magazine columns (complete with hilarious and fitting bylines), and this style was both unique and perfect in the sense that it allowed Rosen to tackle many different narratives without overwhelming the reader or taking away from the artful simplicity of her tales. The book almost felt like a collection of short stories in that it was easy to get through and a quick read, but what was wonderful about it was that the short narratives continued and several characters were revisited on multiple occasions, so that their stories were told both in snippets and anecdotally, but also completely. I liked the fact that I got to see many of my favourite characters from the novel frequently, but also that my reading experience wasn’t bogged down by details of them in their daily lives that were irrelevant or didn’t propel the main plot forward. I was looking for a light read after finishing a hulking John Irving novel, and Nine Women, One Dress was exactly what I craved. I powered through it, and honestly I could’ve read it even faster if I didn’t take as many breaks in between chapters, to sip on my tea or break off another piece of the chocolate bar I made a companion to my reading time on many nights while immersed in this story. It is just the quintessential coffee shop novel, the perfect read for an evening spent in the city, with a hot drink and a great view of skyscrapers and the gentle hustle and bustle. It is a novel that screams I ❤ New York…or any other great city (like, as an example, Toronto)!

Although it is a small book, weighing in at only 257 pages, I did get really into the lives of some of the characters in Nine Women, One Dress. My favourites would have to be Natalie, a Bloomindale’s shop assistant (Sidenote: I really need to visit Bloomingdale’s one day!) and movie star Jeremy/Stanley, as well as Private Investigator Andie whose job I found so interesting and whose issues with romantic boundaries I found endearing and realistic (haven’t we all obsessed over and pseudo-stalked a love interest in our lives?). I also had a particular soft spot for the romance between Arthur and Felicia, which brewed quietly over many years and finally reached its impressive romantic climax…it was totally adorable to watch this slightly older couple discover their long-buried feelings for one another! Many of the more secondary characters were also witty and a lot of fun to spend time with, particularly Sophie, the new graduate who uses Instagram fame to her advantage to land her dream job. Each of the characters were very down-to-earth and human, and I could easily pick out people in the crowded Starbucks I sat in while reading parts of this novel who I could imagine slipping into one of the storylines. Rosen really does seem to pick people out of an average crowd and make them into her subjects, and that makes it very easy to relate to and root for her characters.

Having said all that, I couldn’t give this novel a full 5-star rating for two main reasons. One is the chapters focusing on Medina Karim, whose self-proclaimed title is “Shireen’s Levelheaded Sister”. Medina and Shireen are young women living in Paris who struggle with their religion, Islam. Because they wear burqas as part of their religious custom, they wrestle with their desire to explore fashion and express themselves physically. While I thought it was a clever idea to include a commentary on religion in the novel, I did feel that Rosen tended to oversimplify these issues a little and focus too much on feminist stereotypes. I appreciate what she was trying to do and the statement she was trying to make, but I worried that maybe she wasn’t using the right medium to do so. The novel seemed altogether too short, and the chapters were not detailed enough, to enter into a proper discussion of religious belief and adherence and its limitations. I just felt that these chapters and this narrative was a touch out of place – if Rosen had spent more time truly delving into the matter and examining her characters more closely or giving them more space to speak and express themselves, I think her arguments would have been more successful.

I also, ironically, could not give the novel a full 5-star rating because I felt that it was too short. I know that is a bit paradoxical because I just finished saying how lovely it was in its quickness, but what I’m trying to say is that, when I compare Nine Women, One Dress to the 5-star novels I’ve read in my life, or just this year, it falls a bit shy of the mark. Only a touch shy, mind you, but it simply wasn’t the most outstanding or incredible rom-com I read this year. For that reason, I felt the need to distinguish it from clear 5-star favourites of mine like The Hating Game and Christmas at Tiffany’s – but, as I said, I would give it 4.5 stars if I could!

All in all, I would highly recommend Nine Women, One Dress as the perfect holiday read (whether that holiday is in the summer, on a beach, or in the winter, by a warm fire, it still works)! It is airy, fun and very cute, and it was a truly enjoyable experience to read it! Plus, isn’t that cover just gorgeous?!

*Final Note: I didn’t take the time to keep track of the women interacting with the little black Max Hammer dress mentioned in the book’s title, so I have no idea if there really were nine women…having said that, I’m sure that there are and a less lazy reader would probably be able to say for sure! Haha!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

What’s The Buzz? The Most Underrated Books (…in my opinion!)

Recently, I was on Goodreads, about to add a fellow reader with similar bookish interests to mine as a friend when I was bombarded by his Friend Request Question. I think these questions are a lot of fun (I set one for my profile too) because it gives you a chance to immediately get to know the person you’re becoming friends with, and gain some insight into their reading habits and preferences. I also enjoy answering these questions because they get me thinking about my own love of books and different genres that I’ve encountered.

This particular Goodreads user’s question was very challenging, though! It asked:

What underrated book would you recommend?

For the life of me, I could not think of an underrated book to recommend, which struck me as really peculiar! I don’t think my reading preferences are all that cliché or common, and while I definitely enjoy checking out buzzworthy books, I also like to pick up novels that are more obscure and not as mainstream. Nothing came to mind when I was faced with this question, however, and so I decided to dig into my Favourites Shelf to garner some ideas…and in so doing, I discovered a bunch of underrated or unappreciated (in my opinion!) novels that I thought I should be listing and recommending here on my blog as well. I was reminded of a bunch of stories I read that I haven’t seen many other people picking up, and it struck me as a darn shame! So, with that said, here is my list of a few underrated or less popular books that I ADORED and recommend to anyone who’s looking for something new and unexpectedly awesome to read…

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, to be perfectly honest, but one book that totally blew me away was Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This could have a lot to do with the fact that my fiancé was born in Iran, but I think it has more to do with Nafisi’s very unique approach to non-fiction: she describes her struggles, and those of many women living in Iran, through the lens of various literary works she secretly read during her time living in the Middle East. It was absolutely fascinating to rediscover novels I had read and enjoyed through the eyes of a woman living in a much less liberal and open-minded society, and I learned a great deal about Persian culture and the troubled Iranian government through the guise of literature.

Acclaimed Theatre

There is no play out there that has touched me as much as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Yes, I know this play is extremely popular and critically acclaimed, but I would say that it is underrated because I just don’t know of many readers who rush to pick up theatre. I have never been more moved by a story than I was by Angels in America though, and it touches on such a variety of topics like religion and sexuality and politics, that there is truly something in it for everyone! There are so many great lessons to be learned from this text and I am convinced that anyone who picks it up and delves into it becomes a better person for it!

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

There’s no doubt that Alice Munro is the ultimate short story writer, and she is undoubtedly my favourite. However, I am equally a fan of fellow Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant, and her collections Montreal Stories and Varieties of Exile are forever favourites of mine. Gallant’s style is very similar to Munro’s in that she focuses on the ordinary and mundane, but highlights the extraordinary and interesting about it. She takes the most everyday activities and characters, such as a woman commuting to work on the subway, and infuses them with a special quality that immediately connects the reader to them. Plus, her use of language is gorgeous and very similar to Munro’s, so if you are a fan of Alice Munro, I guarantee you will love Gallant’s short fiction as well.

Poetry from the Distant Past

Poetry is probably the literary genre I have the least amount of experience with, and most of my reading of poetry has been for literature courses rather than for pleasure. Having said that, I have encountered some truly EPIC poems in my day (I’m think of a certain Paradise Lost, as an example) and one of my favourite, lesser appreciated long poems is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is the quintessential medieval tale, with references to King Arthur and his valiant Knights of the Round Table, and although I had to study it for a class, I absolutely fell in love with the tale and with the adventure and, of course, with chivalrous Sir Gawain. This is definitely a fun one and it is so easy to get swept up into the tale!

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

Why not throw a picture book on this list? Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a story I grew up having read to me and is probably the first book I ever encountered in my life. It is touching and moving and lovely, and I swear, everyone needs to read it to their kids. It’s a classic, in my opinion!

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, EVERYONE should read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It treats the same subject matter as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, to me, is a far superior novel. It is deep and engrossing, and the main character Sam Kingston is easily relatable but also hopelessly flawed. I can’t say enough good things about this novel, and the film adaptation (starring Zoey Deutch) is equally good! If you only pick up one book from this list, make it this one!

Heartbreaking Romance

If I say too much about The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris, I will cry. It is a tearjerker in every sense of the word, but it is also a uniquely structured and stylized romance. The way it is written makes it truly stand out (by focusing on telling the stories of different first kisses between the two main characters), and I have it on my list of favourite novels of all time…considering that I’m a big rom-com reader, this should tell you something, since it clearly stands out!

Midnight Mystery

Although The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is technically a Victorian novel, it is the ultimate mystery that I think rivals stories told my Agatha Christie and more contemporary mystery writers. It is a story that instantly draws the reader in, with its family politics, deceptions and unreliable narrators, and there are so many different narratives that it never gets boring. The reader is swept up in a mystery that is genuinely difficult to solve, what with all the competing theories swirling around between the many characters, and it is a truly fun and suspenseful ride. I adore this novel and I’ve read it several times…knowing the end result doesn’t even phase me because the ride is the best part!

Haunting Historical Fiction

I’m going to label The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson a historical fiction novel, although it also contains fantastical elements and is a contemporary novel, so really it fits into three categories. Whatever genre it is, it is without doubt one of the best novels I have EVER read, and this is all down to the remarkable narrator. He’s so flawed, complex and complicated, at once detestable and so loveable, and I was so moved by this novel that it has left a permanent mark on my heart. It’s an emotional and troubling story, but it is so worth the read because it will truly blow you away! HIGHLY recommend this one!

Crazy Classic

Jude the Obscure is one messed up novel…but what else do you expect from an author like Thomas Hardy? I have a lot of favourite Victorian novels, and there are other novels by Hardy that I prefer, but Jude the Obscure is totally underrated in that barely anyone reads it, as far as I know. Readers are more inclined to pick up Tess of the D’Ubervilles (and with good reason, of course), but they forget about Jude entirely even though it seems to be Hardy’s darkest novel. Honestly, I can’t even explain some of the crazy stuff that happens in this book, but it is just so dark and gothic and really worth picking up if you’re into classics.

And finally…

Oh Canada!

Being the extremely proud Canadian I am, I had to include an underrated Canadian novel on this list, and I chose The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables, and I have huge respect for that story, but in my opinion, The Blue Castle is just better. It is more adult and sophisticated, and it also features this indomitable and fierce female character, Valancy Stirling (what a great name, eh?), who I instantly fell in love with! She actually became a role model for me and I admit that I think about her often when I’m in social or professional situations that require me to have a bit more backbone than usual. I don’t think many readers know about this novel and that is a serious shame because it is at once hilarious and profound and entertaining. And, talk about girl power, because Valancy knows how to hold her own, no matter who she is up against…I LOVE IT!

Let me know in the comments below if you plan to pick up one of these underrated novels…or if you already have, let me know what you thought and if you too would recommend it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Ends With Us ~ #JNGReads

This has been a year of me reading books that I don’t feel qualified to review.

It started when I read Thirteen Reason Why earlier this year. Although I have suffered from anxiety since my early high school days, I have never felt such all-encompassing depression that I have contemplated suicide. I could not relate to Hannah’s emotional or mental state while reading the novel, and while that did not affect my overall enjoyment of it whatsoever (I do not feel it is necessary to identify with a character in order to connect with them or enjoy reading their story), it did make me feel like I had no place reviewing the novel or giving it a numeric rating. The novel wasn’t my favourite for many reasons, mainly because of how it was written, but I didn’t feel like I could actually critique it because of how important the subject matter was and how imperative I believe it is that everyone, particularly teenagers, read the story.

How do you review something that you think everyone needs to read, even if you didn’t love it and for reasons far more significant than enjoyment?

I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question, and I certainly didn’t have it when I read the novel It Happens All The Time just a short while ago. That was another novel that dealt with such important subject matter as rape and consent, and I felt totally inadequate reviewing it, considering that I have been lucky enough to never find myself in the positions of the main characters. Again, I felt that the subject matter was so poignant and timely that every reader should pick up the novel, but I didn’t absolutely love how the story was articulated or how the characters’ narrations were portrayed.

Now, here I am again, trying to review a novel that just shouldn’t be reviewed. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is so much more than a romance, and I’m actually thinking that it was a mistake to choose this as my first experience of Hoover’s writing. As far as I know, Hoover is an established and much loved romance writer, but It Ends With Us is apparently a departure from her usual style and genre. In this novel, Hoover decides to investigate the more complicated, complex and tragic side of a relationship, and the romance between the two main characters takes almost a backseat to their struggles.

I should warn you all that SPOILERS are ahead. If you don’t want to have any idea of what happens in It Ends With Us before picking it up, I urge you to stop reading this review here.

It is nearly impossible to talk properly about It Ends With Us without mentioning that it focuses on domestic abuse. Not only is domestic abuse a huge part of the upbringing of the main character and narrator, Lily Bloom, it also becomes a component of her own marriage to Ryle Kincaid. This is where the novel becomes both heartbreaking and profound – Hoover chooses to not just write an average, mundane, cookie-cutter romance; she chooses instead to focus on the nitty gritty of an abusive relationship, and investigate the emotions that a woman being physically and mentally abused would endure. There are a lot of romance novels out there, but very few that do something interesting, that actually talk about important topics, and Hoover totally turns the romance genre on its head and does a complete 180 with it.

I wholeheartedly respect that and I found her treatment of domestic abuse fascinating and enlightening. I love and appreciate novels with grey area – my favourite characters are the ones who are not simply black or white, good or bad, perfect or irrevocably flawed.

“‘There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.’” ~ Ryle

There was not a moment in the novel that I thought that Lily should leave Ryle, just as there was not a moment when I thought she should not leave him – I had no idea what Lily should do because although I tried my hardest to put myself in her position, I simply could not. My experience and identity as a reader is limited in that way, and so I could sympathize with Lily’s circumstances and wish that she would find happiness, but I could not decide for her. That is the most hard-hitting aspect of It Ends With Us; Hoover expertly and subtly comments on the notion that people are far too easily inclined to judge others, to pronounce opinions on other people’s situations without having any real idea of what it is like to properly be in them. There are many people out there who would say of a woman in Lily’s position, Why doesn’t she just leave him? There are many people who would blame Lily for not walking away earlier, for not standing up for herself. But how many of those people have lived through a relationship like Lily and Ryle’s? How many of them have had to rip themselves away from the person they love, even if they know it is technically the right and most healthy thing to do? Hoover teaches us all, her readers, her audience, to critique less and support more, to be there for others without trying to control them, to practice compassion rather than judgment. I respect so much that Hoover has chosen to use her popularity as a romance writer to draw attention to an issue that is far too often overlooked and misunderstood by society at large.

Having said that, the reason why I find it so hard to traditionally review It Ends With Us is because there is one aspect of the story that bothered me a little bit (only enough to lower my necessary Goodreads numeric rating by 1-star, mind you). This particular detail is the aspects of the novel pertaining to Lily’s somewhat romantic relationship with Atlas, her first love. While I definitely do NOT think Ryle’s jealousy was justified or was an excuse for his treatment of Lily, I did feel that Lily’s interactions with Atlas and her reminiscing on her teenage relationship with him, both before she began dating Ryle and during her marriage, took away from the poignancy of her story with Ryle. Hoover’s decision to oscillate between scenes in which Ryle and Lily develop their relationship (both positively and negatively) and scenes of Lily thinking about Atlas and being confused by her lingering emotions for him frustrated me on many levels. I felt that the storyline with Atlas took away from the gravity of Lily’s situation with Ryle in that it drew attention away from the severity of what she was going through. It almost trivialized how difficult her life became after Ryle’s most horrible incident of domestic abuse because Lily’s admission that she wished she could easily feel something for Atlas without so much stress and trauma and confusion surrounding her brought the story back into a traditionally romantic domain that I wished it would severe all ties with. It just overall toyed with my emotions in that I was feeling hurt and scared for Lily but then hopeful that her and Atlas would “get together” in the traditional sense – it didn’t feel right to have these thoughts, which is thankfully something that Lily recognizes as well, but I found myself wishing that Atlas wasn’t even part of the equation. I ironically struggled more with the romantic moments of It Ends With Us than with the powerful moments because I grew to accept that it was not a generic romance novel and so it frustrated me to be offered tokens of romance novel stereotypes amidst such deep and meaningful subject matter. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I feel that if It Ends With Us began and ended only with investigating Lily’s relationship with Ryle, it would’ve felt slightly less disjointed and would’ve made me feel more consistently emotional and heartbroken.

I’ll repeat, though, that It Ends With Us is still extremely poignant and important in that it is NOT just a romance novel. It is so much more and it is a book that I would undoubtedly recommend to women, and encourage them to pass on to their mothers, their daughters, and their friends.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*One more note… I went for a run partway through reading It Ends With Us, and a song came on my iPod that made me think of Lily. It was the song “Night So Long” by the band Haim from their newest album Something To Tell You – the deep and powerful instrumentals and the haunting harmonies made me picture Lily taking a walk in the dark, contemplating her emotions and her future. The lyrics also seemed to resonate with her experiences in the novel, so I thought I would share a few here…

“In loneliness, my only friend

In loneliness, my only fear

The nights end

Then I say goodbye to love once more

No shadow darkening the door

Until your memory is gone

The night, slow, long…”

~ “Night So Long”, Haim

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #3

Hello and Happy Sunday!

Today, I’m feeling that it’s a Sunday. Recently, I haven’t been too depressed on Sundays and I haven’t dreaded Mondays all that much, but today I am definitely struggling with the idea of heading back to work already. Maybe it’s because last weekend was a long one, or because I didn’t have the chance to read as much as I would’ve liked to this weekend, but I just feel like the last two days sped by rapidly, and I wasn’t ever able to catch up. I can’t say I’m all that concerned about the summer coming to an end, what with the fact that I’m a Fall/Winter Girl through and through, but I still wish Monday morning didn’t creep up on me so quickly sometimes. Having said that, I’m back with another Weekly Round-Up to discuss just how much I accomplished this week. Here are the items I will be mentioning in today’s post…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

I’m currently about halfway through Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends With Us. I’ve been hearing a lot about how incredible Hoover is as a romance writer for the past few months, and when I finished my most recent read (more on this below) midway through this week, I decided it was high time for a lunch hour excursion to the Chapters near my work to pick up a novel that would mark my first foray into Hoover’s catalogue. I chose It Ends With Us because I had seen the best reviews for it on Goodreads, and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I caught wind of what the basic premise and main conflict of the novel is, so I’m positive that it is going to break my heart and destroy me, but so far I am intrigued and interested in watching the characters progress. I also really like the narrator, Lily Bloom, and am enjoying reading all about her floral shop and her interactions with her best friend Allysa. Having said that, I know the story is going to get deep and heavy, so I am emotionally preparing myself for that complete 180.

• Recently Finished •

Halfway through this week I finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. You can read my review of the novel here. For me, it was an average novel, mainly because I found it hard to connect to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman, and his scientific, logical, straightforward manner of speaking. I sped through it and I didn’t hate it by any means, but it’s not my absolute favourite novel that I’ve read recently.

• What’s Next •

This is tricky because I am still drowning under piles of books I have to read (not a bad thing whatsoever, mind you). This past week, however, I managed to score tickets to see one of my favourite authors of all time, John Irving, in conversation at my old university. He’ll be appearing there in early September, and while I’ve read many of his novels (The World According to Garp most recently, although A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favourite), I have been meaning to read his latest novel, Avenue of Mysteries, for a very long time. It is currently sitting on my bookshelf, so I absolutely will be picking that up before I see John Irving live (Eek, so excited!), either next up after I finish my current read, or in the very near future.

• Quote of the Week •

“It is my intention to astonish you all.” ~ Bathsheba Everdene

Last night, my fiancé and I sat down to watch a movie on Netflix, and I somehow managed to get him to agree to watch Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Carey Mulligan. He is a huge fan of Victorian film adaptations ever since meeting me, and he was more than willing to delve into this story because he generally likes period dramas. I had already seen the movie, but I find Bathsheba Everdene to be such a fascinating and conflicting character that I was eager to watch the film again. And, besides, Garbiel Oak is definitely a swoonworthy hero. What struck me most in my rewatch of this movie, though, is the fact that Bathsheba is such a modern and contemporary heroine. She is strong and defiant in the face of her male counterparts who try to shut her down, and she is quite progressive in her attempts to manage a farm herself. She refuses to allow men to tell her what she is and is not capable of, and although she makes a few blunders in the name of “love”, she has herself mostly figured out from a business perspective. She is also unfailingly confident, both in her abilities and her intelligence, and her dialogues are always pointed and sharp – she never gives her male interlocutors the upper hand. I personally like Bathsheba quite a lot, particularly when she proclaims the quote above, surrounded by the men that she will be the boss of on her newly inherited farm. She is a force to be reckoned with, as are the greatest female characters in film and literature.

• Song of the Week •

And on that same vein, my song choice for this week is “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme”, sung my Carey Mulligan in the Far From The Madding Crowd movie and on the soundtrack. It is such a simple Victorian ballad, but the lyrics are poignant in that they offer advice to women to guard their hearts and their heads. I know this is a bit of an archaic idea, but Mulligan sings the song so simply and I like that her voice is not classically trained, but fits the genre so well. It definitely whisked me back to Victorian times when I listened to it.

• Photo of the Week •

There is one photo that I am absolutely dying to post, but unfortunately, I can’t. It is probably the best photo of me ever, and I am standing with my back to the camera, wearing my wedding dress. It is just the most gorgeous photo (if I do say so myself) and all I want is to be able to show it to everyone. But, alas, my wedding is still just over 4 months away, so the time for my big reveal of my wedding dress hasn’t come yet.

In lieu of that particular photo, then, I have chosen this photo of my fiancé and I as my Photo of the Week. It is one of the photos from our engagement session, and I just love the joy and happiness that is clear on my face. I don’t think I’ve ever looked more excited or comfortable or at peace in a photo, and the man whose arms are wrapped around me has A LOT to do with that!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

To finish things off for this week… My wish is that tomorrow will be the least Monday-like Monday of all the Mondays. I’m hoping it feels more like the start of a new adventure than like the beginning of a daunting work week.

Good luck tomorrow everyone!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Rosie Project – #JNGReads

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a novel that I enjoyed, but wasn’t enthusiastic about.

There’s no denying that The Rosie Project is well-written and incredibly unique.  It details the life of Professor Don Tillman, a geneticist whose rigid routine is thrown off course when he meets Rosie, a woman looking for her biological father.  Don is undeniably a fascinating narrator: his voice is very distinct in that he narrates without emotion and delivers factual details about events devoid of any embellishment or flowery language.  He is the same in his interactions with other characters, and he is known for speaking what comes to his mind, without censorship.  Reading The Rosie Project was an interesting experience for me because I have never read a novel in such a clipped, concise style, and it was very cool to read about what went on in Don’s highly scientific mind.  He has a very different way of looking at the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching his structured life get turned on its head by a character as free and liberal as Rosie.  The dialogues between Don and Rosie were entertaining in that Rosie’s sarcasm and playful mocking of Don easily comes through to the reader, but is mostly missed by Don.  I enjoyed working through their conversations to determine when Rosie is poking fun at Don, but I also felt reassured that Rosie had genuine affection for Don and good intentions.  For that reason, it is fun to watch Don become more carefree and spontaneous through Rosie’s prodding and example.

Having said that, while I got through the novel quickly, I never truly felt inspired by it or connected to any of the characters.  The narrative of the novel flows very easily (which is surprising considering how scientific it is) and it is a quick read at only just over 300-pages, but I almost felt as though nothing substantial happened in the story at all.  It is true that Don’s personality gets overhauled in many ways, and he begins to grapple with and alter his way of viewing the world, but because Don’s narration is so unemotional, it is hard to grasp onto any internal change or reflection.  I also am not a fan of the show The Big Bang Theory, or anything like it, and I went into The Rosie Project knowing that Don has been compared to Sheldon Cooper by many readers; this automatically created a disconnect between me and Don, and I did see many similarities between his manner of speaking and Sheldon’s (from the few Big Bang Theory episodes I’ve managed to sit through).  Again, credit must be given where it is due because Simsion really does create a narrator unlike any I have ever encountered, but Don’s narrative style and character just wasn’t for me.  I’m not even really a fan of Jane Austen’s writing style (I know, it’s awful!) because I find it too straightforward and not emotive enough, so I had a feeling from 20 pages into The Rosie Project that I was never going to fully get into Don’s narration.

Despite all of this, I will repeat that I enjoyed The Rosie Project well enough.  I wasn’t dreading reading it by any means, and once I got to around the 200 page mark, I was genuinely interested in how Don and Rosie’s relationship would progress and whether or not they would solve the mystery of Rosie’s biological father’s identity.  I just felt sometimes like I wanted to smack Don upside the head and scream at him that he was in love with Rosie; his obliviousness occasionally grated on my nerves in that sense.  I would recommend this novel, though, as a quick and simple read that is unique and brings something new to literature as a whole.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Return of Queen V ~ #JNGWatches

Long may she reign.

You all didn’t think the trailer for the second season of ITV’s popular drama Victoria would come out without me writing a blog post, did you?  I hope not, because if you know me well, you’ll know that I’ve been waiting for this trailer for half a year, desperately wanting to know what will happen next for Queen Victoria and her dashing Prince Albert.

I was more than a little obsessed with Victoria when it originally aired (I even wrote reviews of every single episode, the first of which you can read here), mainly because it encapsulated absolutely everything I look for in a television show and story!  It was gorgeously rendered, visually intoxicating, expertly acted, dramatic, funny and entertaining!  It was a class act production, from the sumptuous costumes to the jaw-dropping sets to the extraordinary acting talents of Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes, Rufus Sewell and many others.  I was blown away by the entire thing, and so happy to see the Victorian era and this impressive, modern-minded queen coming into the spotlight.

The first season ended on a great note, with Victoria giving birth to her first child and grappling with what it means to be a wife and mother while simultaneously being a queen.  This is an interesting dual identity to explore and it is clear from the season two trailer that Victoria’s struggles with domesticity will be emphasized and interrogated.  The trailer does suggest, though, that this season will be even more romantic than the first (if that’s even possible because the first one was an absolute romantic masterpiece!), and it seems that Victoria and Albert’s marriage will not only be put to the test but will also grow stronger and more solidified as they face issues together as a strong family unit.

Okay, so let’s get into this.  I’m going to break apart some of the things I noticed from this dense trailer, the things that stood out to me and that I am most excited for…

(Sidenote: this probably marks my 15th time watching this trailer in the last day…it is totally addictive and there is just so much to take in!)

  • First of all, can I just say that the music in this trailer is perfection?! It sounds very similar to the title theme of the show (which is also absolutely gorgeous and is actually my alarm clock tone) and so has very Victorian instrumental notes, but then it becomes clear that it is a modern song and I think this juxtaposition of the Victorian imagery with this contemporary music emphasizes the fact that this show is modern in many ways and that Queen Victoria’s story can easily be applied to and enjoyed in the 21st century.
  • The imagery and aesthetic is breathtaking for this entire trailer. I like that it focuses solely on Victoria, and on other characters in relation to her, and the way the camera focuses on her and creates beautiful pictures/almost portraits of her is really romantic and gives the reader a warm and intimate feeling.  We are watching Victoria in her most personal moments and it truly does feel like we know her, like we are friends with her or living through her, even in such a short trailer.

“Do you remember kissing me here before we were married?  Everything was simpler then.” ~ Victoria to Albert

  • Oh yes, Victoria, we remember…talk about one of the most romantic scenes of season 1! Having said that, I love how soft and gentle Jenna’s voice is here, and I love that is it clear that she is not only reminiscing on the start of her romance with Albert, she is also a little bit wistful and depressed.  It is clear that she wishes to go back to easier times, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out throughout the season and in her relationship with her daughter.
  • Also, it has to be said that Victoria’s black, crushed velvet dress is probably the most beautiful dress I’ve seen on this show so far! Totally jealous!
  • I love how often Victoria’s hair is down in this trailer, especially in that moment where she is walking with her horse and Albert. It harkens back to Albert’s statement in season 1 that he likes when her hair is down because she is unbound and seems more human and less of a queen.  It’s nice to see that she is allowing herself to be a woman, and not a monarch, in quiet moments with her husband.

“You will always be my beloved.” ~ Albert to Victoria

  • Trust Albert to swoop in and say something ridiculously adorable and sexy right when it seems like Victoria is feeling emotional and vulnerable. Be still, my heart!
  • It’s fascinating to think that the show is going to explore elements of postpartum depression, and how debilitating this must feel for Victoria, considering that she is a queen and is meant to be strong and powerful. I like that the show is willing to delve into mental health issues, and I have no doubt they will do so with grace and tact and that it will add a very interesting layer to Victoria’s character.
  • When the music picks up and all these images are swirling together, particularly Victoria’s corset being adjusted and her in different social situations, like riding and at dances…just wow! This section of the trailer is so artfully done and it encompasses so much without being overbearing.

“To be a queen, I must rule.  Yet to be a wife, it seems I must submit.” ~ Victoria

  • I feel that this is a struggle that women still face: how to be a wife and mother and still enter the workforce, have dreams and goals and talents. This is undoubtedly a tough position to be in, probably more so if one is a monarch, and as a young woman about to get married herself, I am very interested to see how Victoria manages this split identity.
  • I don’t even want to know why it shows Victoria in mourning clothes. I’m not ready to go there just yet!

“God had nothing to do with it.” ~ Victoria

  • I love that Victoria’s sassy nature is coming out again this season, and I also think it will be interesting to see her get frustrated with her family members once again, particularly her mother. She is very in tune to what people say and think, and I am eager to see her deliver some powerful speeches and one liners again.
  • Did Victoria throw something at Albert? Yes, it appears so!  Haha, I love it…that will be an amazing and dramatic scene to see!  (And I should say that this was my fiancé’s favourite moment in the entire trailer.)
  • That last image of Victoria waving like the true queen she is…exquisite!

I have no doubt that this second season of Victoria is going to be spectacular!  Here’s hoping ITV and Masterpiece release a few more teasers in the months to come.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #2

Hello and Happy Monday!

It’s a holiday here in Toronto, so I decided to postpone my Weekly Round-Up until today to give you a full picture of what I accomplished this week. I’ll be following the same format I used last week, and this was an incredibly productive weekend where I was actually able to finish three books and write reviews of them. I was so happy with this and I really feel like my commitment to reading has picked up a lot this year! Last year, I struggled to balance working full-time, commuting, spending time with my fiancé (we were living apart) and reading in the evenings. My only reading time came during my lunch breaks and my evening bus rides. I was quite worried, when I moved in with my fiancé and started walking to work, that without an evening bus commute, I wouldn’t be reading very much at all. But, as it turns out, I’ve been spending more time than ever reading, and I’m actually zipping through books as quickly as I used to in school – this is all down to the fact that my fiancé and I have this amazing routine where we go to the gym right after work, make dinner and then spend the entire night (hours on hours) reading beside one another on our plush, gold couch with steaming teas. My fiancé is big on reading graphic novels, and he gets so excited about reading beside me and pausing to tell me bits and pieces of his stories, and this offers me so much time to delve into my own fictional worlds. I’m obsessed with this new routine of ours, and honestly, I get really grumpy and annoyed if anything at all happens to interrupt it!

Anywho, on to my more formal update for this week. Here is a reminder of the topics I will be discussing in today’s Weekly Round-Up…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’m about 20 pages into Graeme Simsion’s contemporary novel The Rosie Project. I’ve been taking this one slow, since I started it yesterday, because I spent a lot of time reading on Friday and Saturday, so I just want to slow down my reading a touch. Having said that, I don’t know how I feel about this novel just yet. I know I’m not very far into it at all, but I can already tell that I’m not really connecting to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman. I should say that I am not at all a fan of the show the Big Bang Theory, and I’ve heard Tillman being compared to the character Sheldon Cooper, so I am a bit wary of that. But, I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a long time, so I’m going to plug through it and give it a chance. Hopefully, it ends up surprising me!

• Recently Finished •

This past weekend, I finished three books in total, two of which I started and finished within a day. The three novels were Shooting Scars and Bold Tricks by Karina Halle and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. You can read my detailed reviews of them here and here.

• What’s Next •

That is a darn good question! I really have no idea what I’m going to read after finishing The Rosie Project, and this is NOT for lack of physical books around me. I have about 20 books sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be picked up. Some of them are standalone, contemporary novels. Others are massive fantasy series. I have no idea what my plan is, or when I’m going to get through all of these. I’m thinking, though, that after finishing The Rosie Project, I may read one more standalone novel, and then delve into the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. I think that will allow me to put a significant dent in my contemporary literature pile, but then get back into the fantasy realm that I’m missing a little bit. One thing I do know for sure is that I want to finish off the year reading a classic, and I’ve already decided that my December read will be Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So, if all goes according to plan, by the time I get married, I will be deep into Bleak House – I think that’s fitting considering I’m having a Victorian-inspired wedding!

• Quote of the Week •

This week’s quote comes from a song, rather than a work of literature. I’ve been listening to Sia’s song Helium nonstop for the last little while, and I absolutely love it! It reminds me so much of my relationship with my fiancé, and it is the song I always rush to put on at work whenever I’m feeling the least bit anxious or depressed.

“But even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman’s soul /

Help me out of this hell /

Your love lifts me up like helium.”

• Song of the Week •

Naturally, my song choice of the week is Sia’s Helium. Having said that, my fiancé and I recently signed up for a Spotify account, so that has made sooo much music available to us! This past weekend, we’ve been obsessed with listening to the soundtrack for the musical Hamilton, and I’m literally addicted to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius (okay, everyone knows this already, but I felt I should restate it), and if I had to select one favourite song from Hamilton, I’d go with Helpless because it is adorable and harkens back to all these incredible love songs from the 50’s. I LOVE it! Everyone needs to listen to this soundtrack! (I’m actually currently listening to it, as I write this, and My Shot is such a catchy song too – it is just way too difficult to pick a favourite!)

• Photo of the Week •

My favourite photo of this week is another one my fiancé took of me during our bookish photoshoot a couple of weeks ago. I originally thought this photo was too ridiculous to post and that it was a bit embarrassing, but after I put it on Instagram, so many people complimented me on it that I started to see it as cute and endearing. And really, my whole inspiration for it was to look like Eliza Doolittle, balancing books on her head in the hopes of becoming a dignified lady, as paradoxical as that may seem!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it will go by quickly. I have so many fun plans for next weekend already, including going to a Greek food festival downtown and celebrating my mom’s birthday, and I just can’t imagine sitting at my desk for hours and daydreaming about freedom. I’m also going out tonight with my fiancé and my dad – we’re heading downtown to see the WWE’s Monday Night RAW live. I am actually so excited about this because I LOVE wrestling and I grew up watching Monday Night RAW with my dad, so I cannot wait to be watching it live, in such a big venue (I’ve been to see WWE wrestling at a smaller venue in Oshawa, but this is Monday Night RAW we’re talking about)! Amidst all this excitement, and considering that my wedding is just over four months away, I really am over work – but I mean, aren’t we all, especially on long weekends? And all things considered, my job and work environment are pretty awesome…so maybe my weekly wish should be that I’ll feel inclined to complain less…???

Enjoy your Monday everyone! I know Mondays can be tricky days, but isn’t it nice to get a fresh start every week? Let’s all try to embrace it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – #JNGReads

I’ve wanted to read Jenny Han’s young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the moment I saw the adorable front cover. And yesterday, I finally read it…all in one day.

I should be clear, that rarely happens for me. I’m really not the type of reader to finish a book all in one day – work and life obligations usually get in the way, and ever since graduating from my Master’s, I haven’t had the will power or desire to blast through a story. I’ve preferred to take novels more slowly and not pressure myself to get through them so quickly or within a strict timeline.

But, every now and then, a book is so easy and effortless to read that it begs to be finished all in one day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that book – it is written in such a fluid and engrossing style that I couldn’t put it down, that I sped through the beautiful pages (truly, the font is just gorgeous) faster than I have in a very long time. Han’s writing is elegant and simple, but her narrator, Lara Jean Song Covey, is an endearing character whose voice it is easy to get swept up in. The plot flows smoothly, with moments of excitement and uncertainty planted naturally within the 355 pages, and the dialogue is witty and clever in so many places. Lara Jean’s conversations with her friend Chris, her fake boyfriend Peter, and best friend and former crush Josh, as well as her two sisters Margot and Kitty, are realistic and detailed, from chats about zits and Christmas cookies and puppies, to conversations about more serious topics like sex and death and betrayal. Every aspect of the novel is human and real, and I was engrossed in Lara Jean’s life from the first page, and especially impressed by how details of her past were interwoven seamlessly amongst the present day narration.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential young adult romance – and I know just how successful it is at nailing this genre because I read a novel that failed just this year. As I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t help but compare it to Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss, which I honestly did not like at all. That is a VERY unpopular opinion and I don’t want to start ranting about it all over again because it will ruin the warm and fuzzy feeling that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me, but suffice it to say that I found all of the characters in Anna and the French Kiss to be seriously bratty and annoying, particularly the narrator Anna. Placing Anna in contrast to Lara Jean was very enlightening because it emphasized to me how successful Han was in creating a genuine and likeable narrator – Lara Jean is noticeably flawed, and she is still growing and learning in many ways, but she is also trying her best to be a kind, good person. She isn’t entitled, she doesn’t take life or love for granted, and she doesn’t take herself or her teenage struggles too seriously. Yes, she is mortified when the love letters she writes to her past crushes are accidentally mailed out and her feelings are revealed to them, but she is logical enough to not fall apart, to continue her relationships, to strongly stand before these guys and try to navigate the issue without fearing of her emotions or theirs. Lara Jean is really quite mature, and I think it is easy for the reader to feel inclined to cheer her on!

I really liked Lara Jean very much. I’ve read some reviews where readers have said that they disliked her because she spends much of the novel lusting after her sister’s boyfriend, but I have to severely disagree on that. Lara Jean very quickly realizes that her feelings for Josh are buried in the past, and she does everything in her power to avoid hurting her sister. She does not try to steal Josh from her, she does her best to think of him only as a friend, and I think ultimately she succeeds. Teenage love is complicated and not so easy to navigate, but I think Lara Jean is very mature about her complex relationship with Josh and I believe she acts in ways that are respectful to her sister. I was impressed with how sophisticatedly Lara Jean handled this complicated situation, and I found little to criticize her for in this instance.

I will say, though, that the highlight of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for me, was not the romance. Lara Jean’s crushes and her pseudo-relationship with Peter are really sweet and cute, but it would’ve ultimately bored me if they were the only, or even the central, focus of the novel. Instead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before focuses heavily on the Covey family, on the dynamic between siblings Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty and their father. It is absolutely fascinating to see these characters interact, and I was blown away by how realistically Han describes the family life in this story. Margot was an impressive character, a truly inspiring older sister figure, and I found her relationship with Lara Jean, especially in the end when they momentarily fight and must make their way back to each other, to be incredibly heartwarming. The stand out character, however, was Kitty, in my opinion. This 9 year old girl is absolutely hilarious and such a firecracker! Her voice was so distinct, but not too juvenile, and I was so impressed by her one liners. I found myself laughing out loud at so many points because of the adorable and surprisingly adult things Kitty said, and her maturity in interacting with her sisters and father was uniquely portrayed. I have never encountered a child character like her in literature and I would be so interested to read a novel all about her and have a chance to see her grow older. She was undeniably my favourite part of the whole story (and I am really glad she got her puppy in the end – it was well deserved)!

All in all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was an impressive young adult novel. So many young adult novels fail to hit hard, to take their readers seriously and present them with complex and intricate characters whose personalities need to be unraveled and analyzed. Han doesn’t underestimate or belittle her young adult readers, and I appreciate the scope of her novel, how she chose not to just present a simple and cute love story but instead decided to also explore the inner workings of a strong and inspiring family. I may not rush out to buy the second and third novels in this series (mainly because I have many books on my To Read List at the moment), but I will definitely pick them up eventually because I would be happy to visit Lara Jean’s world again. Her and her sisters were characters unlike any I have encountered in recent years, and I look forward to getting to spend time with them again soon.

I highly recommend this one, to young adult readers and to older readers as well – definitely check it out before the movie adaptation, which is currently in the works, comes out!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Artists Trilogy – #JNGReads

In this review, I will be discussing the three main books in the Artists Trilogy by Karina Halle.

1) Sins and Needles ~ ❥❥❥❥

2) Shooting Scars ~ ❥❥❥❥

3) Bold Tricks ~ ❥❥❥❥❥

Let me start by saying that this romance series is unlike any set of romance novels I’ve ever read. Oh, it is sexy and hot and steamy in so many places, but it is also intensely plot-driven with an intricate story that is built up painstakingly throughout the three books. I’ve said this before, but I always hate it when a literary or cinematographic series is a series simply for the sake of it; when an idea or storyline is bled and drawn out in a way that is self-indulgent and that adds nothing new or exciting to the audiences’ experience or understanding. The Artists Trilogy is not that sort of series, though – each and every novel is necessary because the plot is moved forward and the characters are pushed to become different, to change and re-evaluate themselves as they are faced with fresh obstacles.

Halle can write a gripping, intense and suspenseful story, that is for sure. Without giving too much away, the three novels in the Artists Trilogy not only feature heart-stopping and breathtaking romantic scenes, they also feature moments of deception, terror and turmoil. The three main characters, Ellie Watt, Camden McQueen and Javier Bernal, are so bound up in illegal activity, conning, grifting and drug cartels that they are never truly safe, that they are constantly on the run, and the reader is taken on that journey in a way that is exhilarating and never exhausting. Halle’s pacing is excellent and she really knows when to use cliffhangers and when to make big reveals in ways that are subtle and realistic. Her story is exciting but never too improbable or unbelievable and the reader is easily swept up for the ride.

And that is what I loved best about this series: that Halle creates an actual story, a set of issues and challenging circumstances that call her characters to actually be human. All too often in romance novels, nothing much really happens – the love interests find each other and fall in love, and then into bed, and then they spend the rest of their time sleeping together, getting married and living happily ever after. They don’t do much of anything other than be in love, and so they become stereotypes, clichés that eventually grate on the readers’ nerves. But none of that happens in the Artists Trilogy. Because Ellie, Camden and Javier are thrust into desperate circumstances, they are forced to reveal and grapple with their pasts and come to terms with and sort out their many flaws. They do things, they are propelled forward by intense action, and they are constantly forced to make decisions and interrogate who they truly are. This is the most successful aspect of the trilogy because the characters feel real, tangible, complicated and complex.

The shining star of the Artists Trilogy is main character, Ellie Watt. She is the badass female character we all needed in our lives. She is a formidable narrator with a distinct tone and voice (that often includes adult language…and I must shamefully admit that I’m a fan of swearing myself, to punctuate tricky situations and emphasize emotion!). Ellie is the driving force of the novels, and I actually enjoyed the second novel in the trilogy the least, mainly because Camden narrates half of it. Ellie’s voice and internal monologue is too intriguing to be replaced, and the third and final novel is full of so much of her reflection that I easily sped through it in only one day. Ellie is also so much more than just a narrator – she is a troubled, damaged character with a dark past and sad childhood, and she is so real in that she fucks up (A LOT!), is often hypocritical and misguided, and is on a journey of self-discovery that is moving and difficult. Ellie is also no nonsense, and she never shies away from doing the tough things – she’s not a woman who sits back, even in moments of grave danger, and she easily goes toe-to-toe with the most sadistic and terrifying men. The shy, innocent, virginal female lead is NOWHERE to be found in the Artists Trilogy and that is (sadly, since it should be an established literary fact by now) groundbreaking.

Having said all of this, the Artist Trilogy is also very romantic in parts, with scenes that will make even the most collected reader hot and bothered, and it is well-written with witty points of dialogue. A few of my favourite quotes are below…

Sins and Needles

“‘Fuck that, give me the corn nuts.’ … Who the hell eats a banana when they’re on the run?”

Shooting Scars

“That angel had died on broken wings and with a broken heart.”

“Tattoos were self-expression in its rawest and most permanent form.” = And, sidenote, this series made me REALLY want a tattoo, sooo badly! Too bad I’m a chicken!

Bold Tricks

“Boom. There went my heart.”

“That was the thing about this that they don’t show you in the movies – everyone has to pee at some point, no matter how inconvenient the circumstances.” = Halle story is realistic and her characters are human.

“‘I love you,’ he whispered in my ear. ‘Every minute that goes by, you will my heart.’” ~ Camden to Ellie

All in all, I highly recommend this series to romance lovers who are sick of the same old tropes and archetypes and who crave some adventure and hard-hitting excitement amid their romance plotlines. The Artists Trilogy is unique and fast-paced, and I can see it making a great film adaptation that would appeal to both men and women equally, with its combination of romance and suspense.

Also, I’ve never done this before, but amidst my reading, I happened to go for a run and three songs came on my iPod that I feel would accurately represent the three main characters and their intricate personalities and histories. I’ve listed them below. While I would not call this a love triangle by any means, as there are some clearly serious issues with one party, I think Halle subverts and plays with the love triangle trope so expertly and in a way that many modern readers will appreciate.

Happy reading and listening!

~ Ellie ~

“Ghost” by Ella Henderson

“And at most, I’m sleeping all these demons away…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA8AfQaUnXM

~ Javier ~

“Surrender” by Billy Talent

“This flower don’t belong to me.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPabKxzcy6o

~ Camden ~

“Break Even” by The Script

“While I’m wide awake, she has no trouble sleeping…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzCLLHscMOw

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart