First March Reads ~ Spring Break Recos!

Hi Everyone and Happy almost-Fri-YAY!

Last night, I started reading Sarah J. Maas’ new fantasy novel, House of Earth and Blood, and since I know this 799 page monster is going to be an emotional journey for me and will require its own, full review, I thought it would be a good idea for me to get all my backlogged reviews out here on my blog today.

The last two books I read (both during the beginning of this week) weren’t absolute superstars, but when I was thinking about them and how I wanted to frame this post, I realized that they would both make excellent March/Spring Break reads. They are both short and just the right blend of spicy and sweet, and I was able to blast through them very quickly. They could each easily be finished on a long flight or be casually thrown into a beach tote, and I could picture myself delving into them in a coffee shop or quiet hotel room. 

I highly recommend these both as vacay reads, so let me know if you do decide to pick either of them up at any point!

xox ❤ 

Bully by Penelope Douglas

Meh. This was okay, but it wasn’t the best romance I’ve ever read and it wasn’t even the best “bullying” romance I’ve encountered (I think that would be Paper Princess by Erin Watt, honestly). This book was entertaining, but so many aspects of the plot weren’t fleshed out enough (for example, Tate’s mom’s death, Tate’s science fair project, Tate’s relationships with her dad and grandmother), and I felt things were a bit too rushed for me to grow attached to any of the characters. But, I would be interested in reading more of Penelope Douglas’ work and I certainly didn’t hate this…it did leave me somewhat hot and bothered at least!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Husband Material by Emily Belden

I really really liked this book! Sure, it might not have been utterly brilliant, but it was an easy read that still managed to pack an emotional punch. Some of the plot was a bit rushed and contrived, but I adored Charlotte’s narration from the start and especially liked her witty stream of consciousness and her dialogue with Brian. This was a perfect romance read and I will definitely be recommending it to a few of my friends!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Final February Reads ~ Hello Spring!

Hi Everyone and happy March!

Perhaps it’s a bit ambitious of me to be welcoming spring here on my blog, but I feel like March is definitely a month of transition, and although the weather still isn’t that beautiful in Toronto, we are certainly moving toward a warmer climate and nicer days. I personally can’t wait for the temperature to rise which is quite unlike me because I’m a true lover of Fall…however, I am eager to get out on walks around the city with my baby boy, and bring my book with me to local coffee shops and parks where he and I can sit and enjoy the sun. 

In any case, to cut my rambling short, I just wanted to post a few reviews of books that I finished toward the end of February. I had a good reading streak at the end of the month and got around to reading some books that have been on my To-Read List for a long time (mainly Roxane Gay’s memoir), so I am really pleased with how February shaped up for me on the reading front.

Hope you’re all enjoying your current reads! If you have any particular recommendations, please let me know in the comments! ❤ 

Gabriel’s Promise by Sylvain Reynard

“He was Clare’s father, and perhaps that was Professor Emerson’s most important title of all.”

I loved this book, and it is a new favourite of mine, for nostalgic, sentimental reasons. I re-read the first two books in the Gabriel’s Inferno series last January and then went on to read the third book, Gabriel’s Redemption, for the first time. I was moved by the fact that Julia becomes pregnant in that book, and little did I know at the time, that I myself was pregnant. When I did find out and realized what I was reading at the time I became pregnant, it felt like Fate. 

Now, with a 4-month old son of my own, it was a joy to read about Julia and Gabriel similarly embarking on the journey of parenthood. My husband and I met at the University of Toronto, and so this entire series has always been special to me…this book particularly felt like such a fitting addition to the story at this time of my own life. Fate again perhaps?

I adored this book and I do so hope there will be more books about Julianne, Gabriel and baby Clare to come!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Hunger by Roxane Gay

This book is beautifully written and I am now very eager to read anything and everything by Roxane Gay! It would do this wonderful, poignant, moving book a disservice to say too much about it other than, vehemently, READ IT.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

What can I add to the discussion of this wonderful book that hasn’t already been said? It was a heartfelt, emotional and unique story that I thoroughly enjoyed!

What I didn’t expect, though, was just how laugh out loud funny the novel would be! There were moments when Cyril’s sarcasm actually had me giggling, and I really appreciated those moments of humour amidst some very tough subject matter. 

Absolutely excellent in all regards!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

I’m a T.Rex by Dennis R. Shealy and Brian Biggs

This book is brilliant!!! It is actually hilarious! As I read it to my 4 month old son, I got so into the flow and rhyming that I was practically rapping it to him. It lends itself to doing a T. Rex voice, and my husband and I actually learned some cool facts about our favourite dinosaur. LOVED IT!!!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

American Dirt ~ #JNGReads

“For all of her love of words, at times they’re entirely insufficient.”

Why? Why do I tend to frequently pick up books that I do not feel qualified to review?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a 2020 release that has proven to be incredibly controversial. Praised by the likes of Oprah, Stephen King, and John Grisham, and chosen as a favourite here in Canada by Indigo’s founder and CEO Heather Reisman, American Dirt has taken the world by storm as a depiction of the Mexican migrant experience. However, at the same time, it has been vehemently criticized by authors who show how Cummins’s portrayal of the Mexican migrant experience is racist and inauthentic. I won’t go into too much detail about this myself, as I am not an authority on this situation and thus cannot speak properly about it, but I would like to link below three negative reviews of American Dirt that I read, which greatly informed my understanding of the controversy surrounding the novel. These reviews are excellent and well worth reading before delving into American Dirt, in my opinion.

David Bowles’s Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3083591534

Myriam Gurba’s Review: https://tropicsofmeta.com/2019/12/12/pendeja-you-aint-steinbeck-my-bronca-with-fake-ass-social-justice-literature/

Roxane Gay’s Review: https://gay.medium.com/white-fever-dreams-a5623c5ada0e

My main source of internal conflict after reading American Dirt comes from the fact that I actually very much liked the book. And, I have to be honest, I really didn’t want to. I do not believe, personally, that Jeanine Cummins should have written this book, based on my reading of the reviews above, and I wish that another author, of the target culture, had written it instead. Because, despite everything I had read, I was emotionally overwhelmed by the story of Lydia and her young son, Luca. As a new mother to a baby boy, I was overcome at times by the urge to cry over what Lydia and Luca were going through and by the description of their bond. I found Cummins’s writing style to be extremely evocative and I had a very visceral reaction to every scene she described. Then, when other migrant characters like Soledad and Rebeca were introduced, I felt myself becoming instantly attached to them and feeling their fear, grief and frustration so acutely that I was unable to put the book down. I looked forward to reading it very much, even though I wanted to hate it, and I found myself longing to be able to give it 5 stars and to recommend it to all my friends and family.

But, alas, I feel I cannot do that and I am almost angry with Cummins for ruining this reading experience for me. American Dirt could’ve achieved status akin to Middlesex or Elie Wiesel’s Night for me, except that it was written by the wrong author. It could’ve been one of the most profound reading endeavours of my literary life, except that I found myself doubting and questioning everything Cummins said through her characters because the authenticity of the entire work was called into question. I found myself frustrated with Oprah and Reisman for shouting about a book that ultimately cannot be trusted from the rooftops. I was so enveloped and enraptured by the whole story, and yet so deeply disappointed by it at the same time.

So I ask, Why? Why was this book published, marketed and celebrated in this way? Why is a book that is almost designed to mislead its readers being placed at the front of every bookstore I have walked into in recent days? I feel lucky that I am the type of reader who feels inclined to do research, particularly when there is controversy surrounding a novel, but I know that there are so many readers out there who would not feel compelled to do this and who will take Cummins’s words at face value and feel like they are more sympathetic and enlightened as a result. And, ultimately, I don’t think any reader can say that American Dirt is a truly informative or educational text in the way that it could have been if it was written by someone else. Unfortunately, its poignancy and impact is entirely diluted now, and I find it incredibly sad that a story that could’ve had such clout and impact will now be mired by this controversy.

For the first time since joining Goodreads myself, I don’t feel that I want to give this book a rating. If I were to rate it based on how it touched me as a work of fiction, I would be forced to give it a high score…but, as I have said, I don’t feel comfortable doing that because of the circumstances, and I will never be able to fully reconcile my mixed feelings about this particular novel. 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

February Long Weekend Reads

Wowza, it’s been a minute! Hello everyone!

I realized when I logged onto my Goodreads account today that I have actually finished several books recently, and have posted reviews of them on Goodreads but not here on the blog. I thought today would be a good day to do a little recap as it is a long weekend in Toronto, and all of these books were short enough that they could probably be finished during an extra long weekend. I really quite enjoyed each one, even if none of them were my favourite, and I would definitely recommend Touch and How To Build A Girl as excellent reads to get engrossed in if you have a couple of days free!

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I’m sad to say that I didn’t love this book. I expected it to be far funnier than it was, and while I was entertained enough, I didn’t find myself laughing out loud at any points. “The Late Show” was my favourite essay and was the closest to getting me laughing, but unfortunately, I just don’t think this was my brand of humour.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Touch by Courtney Maum

I had a bit of a rough start with this one, and it wasn’t until around page 50 that I really got into it. At that point, I really took a liking to Sloane, and even Jin and Anastasia (a driverless car!) endeared themselves to me. I do feel this novel was more character-driven than plot-based, but as someone who is a bit old-fashioned and often fed up with technology, I really liked the takeaway message that interpersonal connection is a necessary constant. 

I truly thought, in the first few pages, that I’d be giving this one 2 stars, but I am so glad that turned out not to be the case! 

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton

I don’t really feel like I can review this book right now because I am a huge fan of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (which I believe to be superior) and I am still unsure how I feel about how similar this novel was to it. I was intrigued by the ending though, enough to continue with the series in the future.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

I don’t know why I put off reading this book for so long (I’ve had it sitting in my living room for over a year) because it was freaking BRILLIANT!!! I cannot get over how witty and unique Johanna’s narrative voice is…I was hooked from page one! Somehow, this reminds me of To Kill A Mockingbird…even though the subject matter is, of course, hugely different, it is an equally engaging bildungsroman where you can’t help but fall in love with and root for the main character. And this one is damn FUNNY too! Loved it!!!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

My Favourite Quote

“I’m learning a whole new thing: that sometimes, love isn’t observable or noisy or tangible. That sometimes, love is anonymous. Sometimes, love is silent.”

Quantum Entanglement for Babies by Chris Ferrie

I don’t know if I’m smart enough for this “children’s” book (is anyone?). Weirdly, my 4 month old smiled and laughed a lot as we read it, so maybe he is smarter than me…?! A baby genius…?! Or maybe he just liked the funny, simplistic faces of Bob and Alice?

In any case, this is a fun read, but if you asked me what it’s actually about…well, all I can do is shrug!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Hope you all enjoy your weekend!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Short Stories, A Series & Science ~ #JNGReads

Hi everyone, and happy almost-Friday!

Today I wanted to take the time to post some of the book reviews I’ve recently published on Goodreads. Since these reviews were relatively short (you know, what with me having a baby and all!), I thought it best to save them and compile them together into one blog post here. I have somehow managed to read 3 novels in the last week, which is kind of an amazing feat (again, considering my baby situation, haha!) and I am going full steam ahead to try out something a little bit new with my next read…stay tuned for that! Dorian and I also managed to read a really great children’s book and we had some thoughts on it, below! 😉

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

This is not my favourite Alice Munro short story collection (that would be Runaway) but it was such a joy to return to Munro’s work after a long time. 

My favourite stories of this collection, as a new mother, had to be “Before the Change” and “My Mother’s Dream”. I also really enjoyed “Save The Reaper” and “The Children Stay”. 

While this isn’t the collection I would recommend as an introduction to Munro’s writing (I would probably start with Lives of Girls and Women), it was still, of course, quite brilliant. 

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

(*check out my review of the first book in this series here*)

This book (similarly to the first in the series) is one I find really hard to review. 

I enjoyed it as I read it and found myself getting through it quickly whenever my newborn son granted me time to read (case in point, I read 270 pages today alone). However, when I look back on the book at large, I realize that not much happened. The majority of it was focused on descriptions of Lia’s day-to-day life in captivity in Venda, and the real climax came about 20 pages from the end of the book. I found the same structure was true of the first book…so much of the plot was focused on the mundane and quotidian, and then the ending was packed full of drama. 

I also find that these books don’t contain much vivid description of settings or characters. Indeed, I found it hard to visualize the scenes as I read them, and so while I turned the pages rapidly, I don’t remember much from them. 

A fast read, sure, and I am interested enough to finish the trilogy, but not a standout for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

Okay!!! This is what I was hoping for from the other books in this series. This was fast-paced, suspenseful, intricate and engaging! Where the first two books seemed to meander along, this one was action-packed, particularly in the latter half. I also found it to be more descriptive and easier to visualize, and I appreciated and felt connected to the characters even more. Well worth reading the entire series for! 

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

Fairy Science by Ashley Spires

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was positively brilliant!

My son is only 4 months old, so of course he didn’t understand much of this yet and we will return to it over the years, but I did notice him laughing and smiling a lot as I read and flipped the pages. I think this is because the illustrations were so colourful and vibrant, but were full of recurring characters and objects so as not to be too overwhelming. (I particularly found the bird Albert adorable!)

The concept is what really struck me as well-done, though. This was quite clearly a commentary on science vs. religion, but I didn’t find it heavy-handed or offensive in any way. On the contrary, it was realistic and sensitively written, and I think it is an excellent introduction to the scientific method for young children. The experiment at the end that readers can try at home was also a clever addition that I can easily see my husband, son and myself trying one day!

Well written and illustrated with a strong message…I think this will become a classic in my household!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The First Book Reviews of 2020… And a New Initiative!

Hello dear Readers!

My apologies for the radio silence here on the blog during the end of 2019. As you might already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, I had a baby in October 2019. That means that the end of 2019 was what people have been calling the “fourth trimester” of my pregnancy journey, and the first three months of my son’s life. I wrote recently about how chaotic and difficult these first three months were for me, but I am proud to report that I am feeling back to myself now and have settled into a remarkable and wonderful bond with my son that I truly can’t imagine my life without! 

This means that I am also feeling up to reviewing books now that my writer’s voice is coming back. I did manage to read many books during my first three months with my son, but I didn’t have the energy to review them at the time. Ironically, I was able to read 56 books in 2019 (Remember when I set my Goodreads goal to 1 book back in the beginning of 2019 because I was so afraid I wouldn’t have much time to read at all? Haha!), which I am very pleased about, but I haven’t set myself a specific goal for 2020 because, of course, having a baby is something that takes up A LOT of time! That being said, I have managed to finish some books in 2020 already…although, some of them have been children’s books that I have read to my son. This got me thinking, though, that maybe it would be a worthwhile endeavour to review some children’s books here on my blog and on Goodreads because, despite the fact that they are short and quick to get through, not all children’s books are created the same and there is a lot to be said about them. I thought perhaps parents might find it interesting to read these reviews when deciding which children’s books to spend their money on, and so I decided that it’s high time to start a new reviewing initiative here on my blog, focused completely on my thoughts (and occasionally my son’s too) on the children’s books that are now a huge part of my life. I’m going to call this new initiative JNG & Dorian Lee Review and I hope you will all enjoy it! 

Below you’ll find a few recent reviews, of both “adult” books and children’s books I’ve gotten through recently… And, as always, thank you for reading and continuing to support my humble efforts on this little space of the Internet! xox

The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. MacDonald

A lot stranger than I expected it to be…and a little bit muddled all around. But still somewhat entertaining!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Christmas on Primrose Hill by Karen Swan

Pure Karen Swan magic! This heartwarming, hilarious, sexy and sweet novel is an instant favourite! Absolutely perfect to cozy up with during the winter season!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Perfect Present by Karen Swan

This is a very different type of book for Karen Swan, but I loved it! It was full of mystery and intrigue, and although I didn’t always like Laura as a main character, by the end I grew to love her. 

My Favourite Quote:

“This was what it was to be a mother, she saw – pride and fear intermingled with something fierce and tender all at once. Something complicated, something universal, but uniquely theirs all the same.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

My First Book of Animals / Colours / Numbers by Emma Hill

This collection of introductory books for young children is really conveniently designed, but not altogether relevant. 

The physical construction of the book is quite ingenius, since the fold out style means that the books can be propped up on the floor beside your baby or even within their crib, allowing them the opportunity to look at the bright and vibrant pictures on their own and independently. These books are also a lot of fun to read with your child because they provide an opportunity to elaborate on the animals and colours (for example, “Orange is Mummy’s favourite colour!”), and to actually count out the numbers. I also decided to tell my son the words for the animals, colours and numbers in French as well as English, so there is an opportunity to incorporate second language learning into this reading experience.

That being said, I did feel that the selection of objects in these three books was not really that relatable or relevant to my child. For example, pages about “six toy soldiers” or a flower being the selection for the colour pink, rather than an object that is consistently pink such as a flamingo, seemed a bit random and made me think that my son will not necessarily grasp a full concept of colours or numbers from these books. I prefer some of the books I’ve seen that focus on objects that children see in their every day environments as they are easier to refer to and seem to teach more relevant information.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel

This children’s book is really funny and cute! I found it to be a lot of fun to read with my son because it is short, with a simple concept. The text/font is also extremely large, and I feel that older children around the ages of 1 to 2 years will be able to follow along with the story very easily. The colours are also vibrant but not overwhelming, as Kimmel chooses to mainly use whites, blacks and oranges and avoids bombarding the reader with too many colours.

My one critique is that I don’t think this book is interesting enough to become a classic. It’s sweet and adorable, but nothing overly special, so I don’t think it will go down as a memorable story in my household.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG (& Dorian Lee)

Girl (& Baby) with a Green Heart

Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Understanding the Science of Stress ~ #JNGReads ~ A New Non-Fiction Favourite

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – Paradise Lost, John Milton

I have always loved this quote from Paradise Lost. I have it written down in several notebooks, typed out on a sticky note on my laptop that I frequently scroll over, and even had it framed on the wall of my room when I lived with my parents. From the time I first read it, back in second year university, it became a sort of mantra for me, providing me with comfort and reassurance that even if times seemed particularly bad and I felt incredibly stressed, my mind was strong enough to control those feelings and to get me through whatever stressors I encountered.

But, what I have learned in the last year is that (sometimes…often) the mind isn’t enough. Robert M. Sapolsky has a similar quote in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: “To a certain extent, our perceptions and interpretations of events can determine whether the same external circumstances constitute heaven or hell…” The crux of Sapolsky’s text, though, is that the mind isn’t always strong enough to overcome external circumstances and put them in perspective and, what’s more, sometimes the mind isn’t even capable of doing this sort of heavy lifting if there is a disorder or disease (such as depression or anxiety) that prevents it from doing so. To believe that the mind can persevere in all instances and actually change one’s perspective on reality 100% of the time is foolhardy and naive, and probably was incredibly detrimental to me back in university and had adverse effects on how I would learn to cope with stress as an adult. The point being that understanding stress and the science behind it is no simple task and certainly can’t be reduced to the belief that the mind, if persistent enough, can get a person through anything.

I don’t often read non-fiction books. In fact, I rarely read them, if ever. However, it seems that this year I have done a lot of reading of non-fiction and the main reason for this is that I have felt empowered and motivated recently to finally try to understand my anxiety. When it became evident, towards the end of my first trimester of pregnancy back this past March, that my anxiety was going to be made much more severe by my pregnant condition, I knew (partly because my doctors were telling me) that something had to give and that I needed to get a better handle on my anxious condition once and for all. Not only for my baby’s health, but also for my present and future well-being and overall happiness. Part of this process has involved seeing a psychiatrist and learning about meditation and mindfulness techniques. Part of it has been about exercising as often as possible and forcing myself to go out and interact with my friends and family members even when I don’t feel up for it. But, I have always been an avid learner, a true student at heart from the moment I entered my grade one classroom, and so I felt that I wanted to supplement my doctor’s appointments and daily activities with reading material that would allow me to come to grips with feelings I have had for my entire life. I never have put in the effort to truly understand my anxiety in this way, and I immediately picked up the self-help book Let That Sh*t Go by Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal hoping that it would be a quick and easy read that would at least help me feel a little bit better. It certainly did and it was good, but it wasn’t anything truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering and it didn’t by any means fundamentally change my perspective on anxiety. I next delved into a book recommended by my psychiatrist, Mind Over Mood, and this was of course a huge eye-opener to me in that it taught me the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy and worked wonders to help me reframe my insecurities and fears and better manage my heightened emotions. What I felt these two books lacked, though, was an explanation of what was going on in my brain, of the chemical, biological and physical mechanisms that were clearly contributing to my anxious state and probably had been since my birth. It was a desire to get to the bottom of these internal processes that led me to pick up Sapolsky’s book.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is easily one of the best books I have ever read, of any genre or category. (That’s right, I’m putting it right up there with Jane Eyre although it is, naturally, a very different text!) I was utterly blown away by Sapolsky’s work, and as someone who has never studied psychology and who only studied science up until the end of high school, I was thoroughly impressed by how accessible and relatable he made the scientific explanations in this book. This type of text could easily become overwhelming, but Sapolsky is very careful to keep things manageable for his reader, and he even infuses dry humour, jokes and wit into the text (especially in his often unexpectedly hilarious footnotes, which are a must-read in themselves). He of course uses terminology like “glucocorticoids” and names of “catecholamines” like “epinephrine” and “norepinephrine” often, but he uses them so frequently and explains them so thoroughly that the reader gets the sense, by the end of the book, that these concepts aren’t all that incomprehensible. 

I also made a conscious effort to take my time while reading this book, not because it felt dense at all, but because it did feel heavy. I admit, it was an emotional read for me because I could so easily and fundamentally relate to the findings that Sapolsky examined; I became one of the test subjects he discussed because I recognized how my experiences fit into the results and conclusions. On the one hand, it was nice to know that there is a scientific explanation for why I feel a certain way, but it was also jarring and terrifying to be confronted with so much evidence and research to explain something that I have kind of taken for granted for my entire life. It made my anxiety feel that much more real and that much more difficult to ignore.

Chapter 15, thus, became an incredibly meaningful chapter for me as it investigated anxiety disorders and the personality types that lend themselves to these sorts of disorders. Needless to say, I checked pretty much every box, and that was, as I mentioned, both liberating and scary. There was this sense, as I read, that Sapolsky just understood ME, on a fundamental level, and again, while it was nice to know that I am not alone in any of my feelings, it was also emotional. It made me even more moved when Sapolsky began to call anxiety a “disease” and distinguished it from chronic stress as being rooted in “a cognitive distortion”. Sapolsky posits that, whereas chronic stress is normally a response to an actually perceived external stressor (whether physiological or psychological), anxiety can arise due to stressors that are entirely imagined. This is definitely in-line with my own personal experiences, and while I appreciated the understanding Sapolsky’s description provided to me, no one ever wants to hear that they suffer from a disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow, and I found myself realizing that I even exhibited anxious tendencies and behaviours as a young child (such as obsessive thinking and phobias) and becoming a bit saddened and melancholy about this. With my increased knowledge certainly came a better understanding of myself, but this wasn’t always a pleasant experience to be sure.

What I did gain, most definitely, was a better comprehension of the biology of anxiety and a greater appreciation of the fact that it is a physical, scientific condition rooted in the brain. I’ve always known deep down that my anxiety is not something I have very much (if any) control over, but it is easy to believe, when something is a mental struggle, that if you can just be stronger, you can get past it. That is, after all, what Milton suggests and that quote from Paradise Lost is still one of my favourites. What is important to remember, however, is that mental illnesses are in fact just as physical as clearly physical ones, and although I always had an inkling of that, Sapolsky’s book solidified it for me. It made it clear to me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, that I might not be able to conquer this all on my own, and that is okay. It made me realize that, just as I would seek help for a broken leg, there is nothing at all embarrassing or shameful about seeking help for a troubled mind. On the contrary, it is actually quite important and necessary.

I’d like to close my review with a few quotes that particularly spoke to me from Sapolsky’s text. I will never be able to explain myself the concepts he espouses (he is a scientist, after all, and I don’t claim to be), but hopefully these quotes will give you a sense for how he writes and what value can be derived from picking up this book. It is one that has undoubtedly changed my life in so many ways and I would not hesitate to recommend it to those who wish to get to the root of what their brains might be undergoing on a daily basis.

Quotes That Particularly Resonated with Me:

“Anxiety is about dread and foreboding and your imagination running away with you.”

“the distorted belief that stressors are everywhere and perpetual, and that the only hope for safety is constant mobilization of coping responses. Life consists of the concrete, agitated present of solving a problem that someone else might not even consider exists.”

“most things that make us anxious are learned…we’ve generalized them based on their similarity to something associated with a trauma.”

“For all anxious people, life is full of menacing stressors that demand vigilant coping responses.”

***********

“Find ways to view even the most stressful of situations as holding the promise of improvement but do not deny the possibility that things will not improve…Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the worst.”

“Find that outlet for your frustrations and do it regularly.”

“Have the wisdom to pick your battles. And once you have, the flexibility and resiliency of strategies to use in those battles…”

“Sometimes, coping with stress consists of blowing down walls. But sometimes it consists of being a blade of grass, buffeted and bent by the wind but still standing when the wind is long gone.”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

How to Dress Like High Lord of the Night Court ~ SS Sponsored Post

Hello dear Readers and welcome to another post sponsored by my husband, SS! As you may already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, my husband recently decided to read the A Court of Thorns and Roses … Continue reading

Summer Series ~ The Beautiful Books by Christina Lauren ~ #JNGReads

I have finally done it! I have finally finished the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren – check that off the Romance Reading Bucket List!

My first experience with the Beautiful series was when I noticed my mom reading Beautiful Bastard sometime when I was in late high school or early university. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in more “hardcore” romance, so I didn’t pick it up myself. It wasn’t until last year, when I picked up the final book in the series, simply titled Beautiful, and absolutely LOVED it, that the series was brought back to my attention. At that point, I had so many other books on my TBR and I was trying my hardest not to buy any more books, so I read Beautiful and then made a vow to pick up the rest of the books in the series at a later date. Fast forward to this year, when I discovered that my local library had an app available where I could request ebooks to read on my phone, and I started putting all the books in Christina Lauren’s most famous series on hold in rapid succession. Now, months later, after many sweltering summer days spent with these swoon-worthy characters, I am finished with the series!

I’ve posted reviews of some of the books in the series in other posts, so I will link them below. Once I got to Beautiful Player, though, I decided to start saving up my Goodreads reviews to include in one larger post, so you will find those reviews below as well.

1) Beautiful Bastard – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

1.5) Beautiful Bitch – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2) Beautiful Stranger – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2.5) Beautiful Bombshell

This short companion to the second novel in the Beautiful series (which I accidentally read after Beautiful Player…oopsie!) was plainly a lot of FUN! It was short and sweet, offering a concise story about one day Bennett, Max, Chloe and Sara spend in Las Vegas, and it was the most entertaining little taste of the life of these friends (as well as Beautiful Player’s hero, Will) outside the larger storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in one sitting…highly recommend it to those engrossed in the Beautiful series! 

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3) Beautiful Player

You’re so fucking beautiful, I didn’t say.

I love you so much, I didn’t say.”

Ah yes, another wonderful Christina Lauren escapade to keep me company over the last two sunny, summer days.

Let’s be real, I’m not ever going to have anything negative to say about any of the books in the Beautiful series. Are they masterful works of literary art? No, okay they’re not. But are they damn enjoyable and intoxicating? Heck yes. If you’re a fan of the romance genre, this is a series that absolutely cannot be missed, and I am pleased to say that Beautiful Player delivered yet another steamy, sweet and adorable story that I couldn’t put down. I adored Will – I am a sucker for tattoos, so I figured he and I were going to get along from the start – and I found Hanna to be really cute and genuinely easy to like. Of course, there are your typical cliché obstacles in this story, as in any romance, but there was nothing annoying about that because it’s exactly the delicious distraction I wanted. 

What I love most about the books in the Beautiful series, though, is how they all weave together. I love the fact that the main characters in each of the novels are best friends, and I particularly appreciated how much time Bennett, Chloe, Max and Sara received in Beautiful Player. I think this novel in particular highlighted the friendship between the main characters and really started to grow this cast of characters further. I especially loved that George got a brief cameo as well, and the whole experience of reading about Will, Bennett and Max’s weekly lunches and Chloe and Sara shopping with Hanna made me feel like I was a part of their friend group too. The little details about Bennett and Chloe’s wedding were also super exciting to read about, and because I read the final novel in the series, simply titled Beautiful, quite awhile ago, it was nice to be able to remember where each of the characters end up in that one and feel a smile coming to my face as I envisioned how much more wonderful their lives would get.

Needless to say, this is already one of my favourite romance series, and I already have Beautiful Bombshell in my hands ready to be cracked open. There’s no doubt I’ll be speeding through it because I just can’t resist hanging out with these new fictional friends of mine again.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3.5) Beautiful Beginning

“‘We’re married,’ he said quietly, pressing another kiss to my belly button. ‘I’m your safe place. I’ve always been your safe place.’”

Honestly, what is there not to love about Beautiful Beginning? As a companion to Beautiful Bastard and a Happily Ever After to Bennett and Chloe’s love story, it is pretty well perfect! There is angst and anticipation and it is certainly incredibly steamy. But it is also sweet and adorable and there are moments that truly warmed my heart and reminded me of the days leading up to my own wedding to my husband. More than all that, it is actually a hilarious novella, and it focuses much more on Bennett’s character than any of the previous novels in the Beautiful series have, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading this (the thought of Bennett, Max and Will chasing dresses down a highway was almost too much to handle!), and I had a permanent grin on my face from page one. 

This is a necessary read for lovers of the Beautiful series, particularly those who will always have a soft spot for the OG couple, Bennett and Chloe. I finished the entire thing in one day, and believe me, it was a day wonderfully and pleasurably spent!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

3.6) Beautiful Beloved

This instalment in the Beautiful series was a bit tricky for me to read, I have to admit. This is entirely down to the fact that I am currently about 7 months pregnant, and so getting a glimpse into Max and Sara’s lives after the birth of their daughter, Annabel, hit very close to home. I’ll be honest that I have struggled recently with reading the books in this romance series because they are EXTREMELY steamy…and being relatively the size of a whale right now and having my mind constantly consumed by thoughts of my baby (who is also constantly moving inside me), I haven’t felt particularly sexy myself in the last few months or even been thinking of that sort of thing. In that sense, Beautiful Beloved was probably the easiest story for me to connect to right now, as far as romances go, but at the same time, seeing Max and Sara struggle to rekindle their intimacy with their newborn a few rooms away was a tad jarring and nerve-wracking to me. Nevertheless, this was an essential story to read in this series, and I particularly liked being introduced to Max’s brother, Niall, who I know will play an important role in his own story soon. The bottom line is that Max and Sara are eventually able to find a balance between their love for each other and their love for their child, and that was really nice to see and certainly gave me hope for my husband and me. It was also really adorable and lovely to see two of my favourite characters from this series acting particularly domestic, and again, this is definitely a necessary read if you are a fan of the Beautiful series in general.

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

4) Beautiful Secret 

I really enjoyed this instalment in the Beautiful series! It felt very unique and different from the other novels in the collection, particularly because in this case, the hero Niall is the one who is inexperienced and uncertain. I found myself relating very much to Niall’s tendency to over-think things to the point of obsession, and Ruby was a charming heroine in her own right. I enjoyed watching her break down Niall’s walls, and their journey from lust to love was entertaining to witness. I found Niall’s hesitancy to enter into a relationship to be quite realistic, and while the story wasn’t very intricate, I found it to be a pleasurable summer read! And of course, any chance to encounter Max and Will again, even briefly, is always welcomed! 

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

4.5) Beautiful Boss

I think Will and Hanna might be my favourite couple from the Beautiful series. (Shh, don’t tell Chloe and Bennett!) As someone who was particularly into academics and considered getting my PhD in Literature for a very long time, I related to Hanna the most out of any of the heroines in the series. I think the main reason I like this couple the best, though, is Will Sumner, who is just delicious in every imaginable way. I’m a sucker for tattoos (I convinced my husband to get his first one just months before our wedding and now he has a full sleeve, which upped his hotness to exponential levels, in my humble opinion), and the fact that Will is both nerdy and sexy as heck has made him a standout character in the Beautiful series from the beginning. So, all that to say that I was really excited to return to a story about Hanna and Will, particularly one that starts off with their wedding. I also appreciated the exploration of Hanna’s struggle to balance her career and her relationship, and although the story was very short and concise, I thought it was a really well done investigation of how straining work can be on a couple from time to time. Once again, Christina Lauren have written an entertaining and enjoyable read, and I would say that Beautiful Boss is another must for all fans of the series to delve into!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

5) Beautiful – ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

That’s all for now, folks! I am quite sad to be finished with this series because I grew so fond of so many of the characters, but I am also very happy that I have it under my belt now because I truly feel it is a cornerstone of the romance genre. 

Have any of you read this series? If so, which of the books was your favourite one? Or (more scandalous question) which of the couples was your favourite?

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart