Two Christmas Books and a Love Story ~ #JNGReads

This week has been crazy and stressful and trying for me, but somehow I managed to finish 3 novels (one of them entirely in one sitting!).  Below are reviews for what I read this week, to get me in the Christmas spirit!

Check out the bookstagram I share with my best friend, Emerald & Opal, to see more bookish photos like this!

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This novel lost momentum towards the second half…or, maybe I’m the one who lost momentum.  In any case, I enjoyed this story but I just felt that the first half, when Laurie and Jack are young and are first coming to terms with the fact that they have a connection but cannot be together, was more touching than the latter half. Really, as soon as Oscar entered into the mix, my interest started to wane a bit, and I found Jack and Laurie to be a bit less endearing as they grew older.  However, overall I found this story to be very entertaining and there were definitely many moments when my chest felt tight and my heart was racing. I even had faint tears in my eyes at times, because for whatever reason, I felt like I could really picture Laurie and her big, sad but hopeful eyes, and could feel her pain and agony at loving a man she could not have.

I would certainly recommend this novel as a Christmas read.  It didn’t necessarily blow me away from start to finish, but it had enough moments that were touching and the story was a lot more mature and intricate than I expected for a chick lit. novel.

❥❥❥.5(out of 5)

The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

Karen Swan is one of my favourite authors, and so, because I didn’t love this one, I don’t want to say too much about it. I was having a rough week while reading this, so I don’t know if my feelings toward it have to do with the book or me. In any case, I WILL read more of Karen Swan’s books (I have 3 unread on my bookshelf right now) in the future!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Love Story by Erich Segal

What possessed me to read this incredibly sad novel before Christmas?  I truly have no idea.

I should mention that I have wanted to read Love Story for many years.  I remember distinctly watching bits and pieces of the movie on TV one day when I was in high school with my mom.  To be honest, I don’t remember much of the movie (I am intending to properly watch it now that I’ve finished the book), but I have held onto the feeling that I should read the book ever since encountering the movie.  I knew the book would be sad (that much, I remembered from the movie), but I am a hopeless romantic so I figured that at some point I had to read the novel literally called Love Story.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, to be honest.  It was as sad and heart-wrenching as I thought it would be, but I had no idea that it was told from Oliver’s perspective and I was not expecting to be so drawn in by his character and narrative voice.  I was kind of thinking that he would be some vapid rich kid, but it turns out that he is a man full of heart and sensitivity.  Jenny is as hilarious and sassy as I thought she would be, and my only criticism is that the book was very short and the love story was quite condensed and much less fleshed out than I would’ve assumed it would be given how popular it is and how beloved the film adaptation is.  But, having said that, I was able to finish the entire novel in one sitting, so that is definitely a testament to how enjoyable and easy it was to read about Oliver and Jenny.

The ending is heartbreaking and sudden, there’s no doubt about that, but overall I must say that I am really glad I got around to reading this one and I think it is the perfect read for a Sunday afternoon curled up under the covers with the person you love.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Love & Gelato ~ #JNGReads

I am having seriously mixed feelings about Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch!

This situation is giving me major Anna and the French Kiss vibes, which I’m not sure I like. A bit of backstory on this: Anna and the French Kiss is a very popular and much-loved YA novel that I had a very controversial opinion about because…well, I really did NOT like it. You can read my impassioned (and very annoyed) review of it here. Anyway, suffice it to say that although I wanted to LOVE Anna and the French Kiss because it seemed like it would be right up my alley, I didn’t, and I was super disappointed…almost inconsolably so! 😉

Let me start by saying that my reaction to Love & Gelato is nowhere near as violent. I didn’t hate it by any means! But, I just felt, especially toward the end of the novel, like something huge was missing. I still can’t put my finger on it, but I am going to try to write out a list to hopefully wrap my mind around it.

The Good Stuff

🍦 Gelato ~ In my humble opinion, there was not enough gelato eating in this novel for it to be part of the title, but any mention of it did make me smile because, quite simply, I adore ice cream!

🍦 Reference to Roman Holiday ~ Aka the GREATEST movie of all time! Enough said.

🍦 Lina (the main character) wasn’t super annoying! ~ She was nowhere near as insufferable as Anna from Anna and the French Kiss, and although I didn’t think she was nearly developed enough in some ways (more on this later), she was pretty endearing.

🍦 FLORENCE ~ I am OBSESSED with Florence and have been ever since I visited it 4 years ago. Talk about the most GORGEOUS place on Earth!!! I have been dying to go back, and this novel certainly made me nostalgic. Although, that being said, I did have some problems with the role Florence played in the novel…but more on this in a moment.

A photo of me in Italy because…why not?!

🍦 Ren ~ Super cute and not an annoying love interest! Barely a love interest at all (more on this below – are you also getting the sense, like I am, that every PRO is also a CON here?), but some of his lines were super witty and made me chuckle.

The Lacklustre Stuff

🍦 Poor Character Development ~ I finished this almost 400 page novel feeling like I barely knew the characters at all, and that was a real shame. Coming off two fantastic reads where I became super attached to the main characters in the same number of pages (Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson and Beautiful by Christina Lauren), I was slightly annoyed that I finished Love & Gelato and felt like I didn’t know Lina or her mother any better than I did at the start. I didn’t sense any profound character development, and I think this was a missed opportunity because Lina in particular has a lot going on in her life and she could’ve grown immensely. I also felt that her relationship with her (newly found) father wasn’t focused on nearly enough, and it would’ve been nice to seem them bonding for longer than a handful of pages. I just think Lina could’ve progressed and learned so much about herself, and I definitely think that was the intention of the novel, but it fell flat for me.

🍦 Insta-Love ~ Okay, I’m not the type of reader who breaks out in hives anytime insta-love happens in a novel, but I could certainly do without it. In the case of Love & Gelato, I just couldn’t accept it. Ren and Lina are friends for about 5 days before Lina starts declaring that she is IN LOVE with him. It’s one thing to develop a close friendship or even become infatuated with someone within a few days (some people are just kindred spirits, I get that) but to say you’re IN LOVE is a bit much. Hey, I’m all for love at first sight when done properly, but this was just a bit over the top, maybe because Lina’s declaration kind of comes out of nowhere and the passage where she starts talking about being in love with Ren is written in a super awkward way, in my opinion. I also have no idea what the purpose of Thomas was, except maybe to sort of establish a love triangle, although that didn’t even work and wasn’t fleshed out enough!

(Sidenote: I fully realize that Roman Holiday is kind of an example of insta-love as well…BUT I have a feeling I would fall instantly in love with Gregory Peck too sooo…?!)

🍦 The Diary ~ What, may I ask, was the purpose of Lina’s mom’s diary? I truly have no idea! At first, it seemed like a cool idea that Lina’s mother sent her old diary to Florence for Lina to read when she arrived, but by the end of the entries, I was left feeling that they were so juvenile and poorly written. Although some secrets about Lina’s mother’s life were revealed through the diary, I personally would’ve rather read about Lina exploring Florence and becoming her own person, rather than reading somewhat lazily articulated diary entries from her mother. Also, the profound takeaway from the diary wasn’t all that interesting to me, and it sort of, again, took away from a great relationship that was budding between Lina and her father, Howard. I just thought the diary was an utter waste of pages, if I’m honest.

🍦 FLORENCE ~ How do you have a travel novel set in Florence and not write more about…Florence??? This is probably what boggled my mind the most – Lina spends very little time in Florence, considering she has just moved there. Sure, we get a mention of the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo and popular landmarks like that, but we get no scenes of Lina exploring the restaurants and cafés of Florence, and she spends more time running around than getting to know the locals or enjoying her surroundings. I would’ve loved to read more about Lina growing accustomed to the culture and falling in love with the city, but instead, we’re taken on this journey of “discovery” that, again, wasn’t very interesting to me.

🍦 All the TYPOS!!! ~ I swear, there was one (either grammatical or spelling) on like every single page. This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine and it seriously hindered my reading flow…but maybe I’m just being nitpicky with this one?! Super frustrating though!

I don’t know, I was disappointed by this novel overall because it wasn’t nearly as sweet and sentimental as I hoped it would be. I would still recommend it as a quick beach read, but I wouldn’t rush out to buy it and there are so many better YA novels out there, if you ask me.

Some Quotes from the Novel I Liked (…to end with the positive…)

You may be slow to warm up, but once you do, you light up the whole room.

“Sometimes I feel like my time is divided into two categories: time with X, and time spent waiting to be with X.”

“‘And I’ve never, ever, ever thought of you as anything more.’

Does it count as a lie if you’re denying something you’ve only fully admitted to yourself for about a minute? Also: One too many ‘evers’ there. But I was going for believable.”

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Wedding Date ~ #JNGReads

GRRR!!!

This is the sound of frustration, of dashed hopes.

I should’ve loved The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. I didn’t. The end.

If only I could end my review there, but I feel like that would be cruel. I really should explain my frustrated outburst.

I should’ve loved The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. The plot is right up my alley, it’s a story that I myself could’ve written and have always wanted to write. Hot guy and cute girl meet in a stuck elevator, hot guy asks cute girl to be his date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding, hot guy and cute girl fall in love. Does that not sound like the SWEETEST thing ever? It’s better than a Hallmark movie…and to be frank, it’s extremely similar to the plot of one of my all-time favourite romantic comedy films, The Wedding Date (coincidence?), starring Deborah Messing and Dermot Mulroney. (Sidenote: Can we consider Guillory’s novel to be plagiarism of this movie? I won’t go there, but I’ll leave you with that thought to consider, if you’ve seen the movie and read the book.) Really, I should’ve absolutely adored this short and sweet story.

But, I didn’t. (The end?) And believe me when I say I’m pretty disappointed. Why didn’t I love this story? Well, there’s a lot going through my mind right now, so I thought it best to compile a list of reasons…

1) The characters were FLAT! Excuse me for expecting some depth to the hero and heroine of a chick lit. novel. I know books of the romance genre don’t always put forth the most complex characters, but I’ve come to expect something a little bit more substantial. The dialogues are basic and generic, Drew and Alexa have possibly the most cliché jobs and personalities for a romance novel, and the side characters pop up to make occasional cameos but are not at all fleshed out. I struggled to figure out why characters like Alexa’s sister, Olivia, and her best friend Maddie were even in the novel because they were hardly significant. After reading romance novels like Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game with witty and engaging and human characters, I’m over this flat nonsense.

2) Drew and Alexa had NO chemistry! Seriously, their conversations were stilted and felt forced, the sex scenes were very awkward and weirdly described, and their texts left much flirtation to be desired. I’ve read romance novels that were entirely written through texts and correspondence, like Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back, and loved them, so the interactions between Drew and Alexa left much to be desired.

3) The writing did NOT flow! The narration jumped around a bit too much for my liking, from third-person perspective focusing on Alexa’s point of view to third-person perspective focusing on Drew’s point of view, and there were often random jumps in between, either mid-sex scene or mid-conversation. I felt like things jolted around too quickly and everything was sort of written like a summary. I never felt settled in one particular scene long enough to enjoy it.

4) Clichés ABOUND! 90% of things that happened in this book have been done in other novels or in films or TV shows. Case in point, the movie The Wedding Date…even the title is a cliché.

Really, that’s about it, and maybe those seem like things that can be overlooked, but when a novel is only just over 300 pages, I expect for things to be more perfected and to feel tighter.

What I will say is that I really enjoyed two things about The Wedding Date: 1) the diversity of the characters and its treatment; and 2) the emphasis on body confidence. The stand-out aspect of this novel is that it features an African American female character and a white male character. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered a novel that featured an interracial couple, and it was very refreshing! I know this isn’t something I should even have to comment on because it should be much more commonplace, but in my experience, it isn’t and I am so happy that this novel is getting some hype because of it…very well deserved! As far as #2, I absolutely loved how Guillory treats Alexa’s self-consciousness about her body. I’m going to come right out and say that I have pretty big hips and a rather large (and impressive, if I do say so myself!) butt, and while these are two of my husband’s favourite things about me, they are definitely aspects of my body that I have always been self-conscious about. I really appreciated Alexa’s occasional, but NOT heavy-handed, reflections on her body, on how her stomach and hips look to Drew. Alexa is still a very confident woman, but she has her insecurities, and I particularly liked that Guillory portrays that a woman can be confident in terms of work and her interactions and personality, and about her physical appearance in general, and yet still have certain hang ups about her body. Alexa never dwells on them for too long, and I thought that was incredibly realistic and that her anxieties were well handled. I also love that she is still super confident in her intimate moments with Drew, and that this sexy and sensual side of her takes over and quiets that self-doubting voice. It was gratifying to read about a female character in a romance novel who doesn’t have this teeny tiny body and who is aware of that, but also not at all limited by it.

Okay, so, now that I’ve taken account of the good and the bed together…let’s go with an average rating, shall we? Not the best romance novel I’ve read by any standards, but it had its own redeeming qualities for sure!

❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Fifty Shades

“‘Enlighten me, then.’”

*This “review” will include my thoughts on the Fifty Shades series as a whole, including a discussion of the film adaptations.*

How to put into words the way I feel about the Fifty Shades series? I don’t even know where to begin.

I should start with a short description of my personal experiences with the series…

I first attempted to read Fifty Shades of Grey when I was in my second year of university. I say “attempted” because I got through very little of the book before refusing to read any further. I’ll let you in on a little secret: at that point in my life, I was pretty inexperienced in the ways of love and intimacy. I hadn’t had my first kiss yet (yes, it’s true, that wouldn’t come until the summer AFTER my second year of university), and I didn’t know very much at all about interacting intimately with the opposite sex. I was as innocent and naïve as Miss Anastasia Steele, and my first attempt reading Fifty Shades of Grey was so abysmal because I was filled mostly with fear, uncertainty and anxiety about every aspect of Christian and Ana’s relationship. It just wasn’t the right time for me to encounter such a graphic, shocking novel, and I remember actually being disgusted and close to a panic attack when I read the scene where Christian and Ana have sex (I should probably get used to not using euphemisms when talking about this series, eh?) for the first time. I just couldn’t stomach it, so for the first time in my life, I DNFed a book.

Fast forward to two years later, when I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I was a bit more experienced at this point (although nowhere near where Ana is by the end of the first novel), so I decided to revisit Fifty Shades of Grey from a more, shall we say, mature perspective. I finished it within days and moved onto Fifty Shades Darker very quickly. I never went on to Fifty Shades Freed because, being totally single at that point, I found it hard to relate to Ana as she was preparing to get married. But, I had read the first two novels in the series without incident, and I felt wiser and more knowledgeable because of it. I would learn about a year later that I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought, but in that moment after finishing Fifty Shades Darker, I felt accomplished and like I had been let into one of the world’s greatest secrets. I guess you could say that I was curious about these things that existed in society but that I wasn’t yet a part of. I was, no doubt, craving some sort of intimacy and physical connection myself that I had yet to find, and I devoured the book more out of wanting to learn than anything else.

“That means I’m competing with Darcy, Rochester, and Angel Clare: impossible romantic heroes. Here’s the proof I needed. She’s an incurable romantic, like her mother – this isn’t going to work.” ~ Grey

Were these two books literary masterpieces? Absolutely not. Don’t misunderstand me please…I am a lover of Charlotte Brontë and I knew the difference between a cheesy, cliché erotic romance and the classic romances of times past. I wasn’t comparing Fifty Shades to Jane Eyre or anything of that nature whatsoever, and I scorned E.L. James’ allusions to Victorian novels because my somewhat pretentious English Lit. major self was offended that she would even utter the name Brontë in her text. I’m now much more versed in the contemporary romance genre and I appreciate its merits, but of course, I always knew the difference between it and those literary classics that have been revered for centuries. That being said, what Fifty Shades offered curious JNG that Jane Eyre did not was detail…it provided me with a glimpse into what happened to Jane after she married Rochester, what would happen to me one day, what came after that first kiss I had finally had. My curiosity, my yearning to know more of intimacy in some capacity, was…sated.

Then I met my now husband, and we started a relationship that blew my mind in so many ways. It was my first relationship of any kind, and as you can imagine, many other firsts came with that. Believe me, Fifty Shades was faaar from my mind when presented with a real, live man to call my own, but of course, I did at least know a thing or two about intimacy because of that popular series that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

What complicated things a bit, though, was the release of the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades. I went to see it with a girlfriend in the theatre, and although I had my own boyfriend and wealth of experience by that point, I was still shocked and disturbed and uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out why I could apparently read about all these acts, and do some of them, and then not witness them on screen, but something about the movie really put me off, and I left at the end in utter panic, texting my boyfriend frantically out of confusion and uncertainty. The issue was (and my boyfriend was quick to identify this and help me through it) the representation of a relationship unlike anything I had ever had or seen: a BDSM relationship that I wasn’t ready to see for myself. Now, I’ve come to understand through more encounters with these sorts of novels and through a better understanding of sex in general, that Christian and Ana don’t necessarily do a BDSM relationship properly…but at the time, it was my only frame of reference, and while reading about it was one thing, seeing it played out before me was quite another. Christian’s urge to possess Ana, her willingness to submit to him, her lack of confidence and pride in herself, all made me very uncomfortable. I left the movie, had some confused and emotional discussions with my boyfriend about all I had seen, and then tried to put it behind me.

Two years later, I was even wiser and more knowledgeable, but this time because of my own experiences, because I had grown to understand myself, develop my own confidence and preferences. I was moving closer and closer to the woman I am today, and something told me that I could handle watching Fifty Shades Darker…so off to the movie theatre I went. And, I’ll be 100% honest, I LOVED this movie! Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but for some reason, I really enjoyed it, and I’ve seen it probably a dozen times in total by now. I can’t really explain what I like about it, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this intimacy is established between Christian and Ana that finally isn’t just physical. It reminded me, in some ways, of my own relationship, and I was touched by the idea that only the people in a relationship can fully understand it. I liked the concept that people in a relationship necessarily have secrets, these private feelings and preferences that they hide from the world and keep only to each other. I had experienced that firsthand myself, that “You and I vs. Everyone” mentality, and I thought it was depicted well on screen. Fifty Shades Darker is still the movie I turn on when I’m bored at home on a Friday night, and I’m happy to say that I also watch Fifty Shades of Grey sometimes, without any anxieties or uncertainties.

Anastasia Steele, what am I going to do with you?

So, when I stumbled upon Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey told from Christian’s perspective) in the bookstore a week ago, I felt that it was time for me to try reading the series again, this time as a married woman with more confidence, self-assurance and self-respect than I have ever had in my life. Much of the novel annoyed me, and I still didn’t like the rhetoric of possession and inequality. I was frustrated all over again with Ana’s innocence and her lack of self-esteem, and I hated Christian at many points. But, I felt that I understood the characters and the concepts so much better (even if I do still think they do BDSM very wrong!), and so I was able to enjoy the novel as a source of entertainment. I appreciated that I had issues with it, because I found that I thought about all those old anxieties from the past in a new light, but I also found myself enjoying the novel for its own sake, as a cheesy, light romance. I had grown a lot since my very first reading of the novel, and the experience of reading Grey was more a recognition of my own growth and understanding of myself than anything else.

Maybe it’s totally absurd to have this extreme of a reaction to a series like Fifty Shades, but I’ve never been able to control how I feel, especially when it comes to novels. The idea of Fifty Shades will always make me a little sad and wistful, maybe because of the intimacy it portrays and how overwhelming and all-encompassing I know that can be. But, whatever the reasons for my strange attachment to this series, Fifty Shades had a hand in my own awakening…and for that, well, it will always have some sort of place in my heart.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

An Enchantment of Ravens ~ #JNGReads

Okay, I think I can condense my review of Margaret Rogerson’s book An Enchantment of Ravens into one sentence…

This novel is the literary equivalent of an hour and a half long feature film that you wish was made into a 4-hour miniseries instead.

An Enchantment of Ravens was a great novel, it truly was. I would’ve gone so far as to say it was an excellent novel, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was just so darn short. At 295 pages, this novel is exactly what I said: a movie that would’ve been better as a TV show…a burger that didn’t come with fries on the side…ice cream in a cup, not a cone. What I mean by all that is that this novel got good, it fully got going, and then it ended. Just when you’re starting to become interested in the plot and invested in the characters, just when you’re taking the last bite of that burger and realizing you’re still hungry, just when you’ve taken the last lick of that delicious mint chocolate chip ice cream and are excited to crunch on the cone…it’s over. The end – nice knowing you, see you later!

Seriously, there isn’t much to An Enchantment of Ravens because it is such a tiny story. However, Rogerson also packs this impressive and intricate world, these unique and fierce main characters, these hilarious and endearing side characters, and this explosive adventure plot into a book that really is nothing more than a novella. My main problem with An Enchantment of Ravens is that I just needed more time: more time to get to know Isobel and Rook, more time to familiarize myself with the world they lived in, more time to visualize their life-threatening circumstances…more time with them in general. I found myself starting to really love and feel connected to Isobel and Rook around page 220, only to realize that there were only 75 pages left of my journey with them. It’s not even that An Enchantment of Ravens is too poorly paced, because I never felt like I wasn’t seeing things I should have or that any plot points were missing per say – instead, I simply felt like every single scene, from Isobel meeting Rook and painting his portrait, to their battle with the ultimate villain (trying to avoid spoilers here!) at the end, could have been expanded, fleshed out further and more painstakingly described. While Rogerson’s descriptions of nature and the fairy world are detailed and lush, and in many places made my skin crawl as I imagined the rot and decay she described in the summer court that was turning rancid, her treatment of particular scenes and conversations and events was too rushed. This is most obvious any time there is a fight scene of any kind – Rogerson seems to describe each moment in rapid succession, literally as if her audience is watching the scene and the camera is moving from one image to the next. But the thing is, we aren’t watching it, we are reading and so we need time to visualize everything, to make a picture of it in our minds, settle into that picture and then let the action unfold. It felt to me on several occasions like I was struggling to keep up with Rogerson, like my mind was flitting from one image to the next too quickly for me to get a grasp on any single one or see the bigger picture. Again, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the images she was creating – on the contrary, I would’ve liked to spend more time within them.

Further examples of this rushed feeling came any time there was dialogue, particularly between Isobel and Rook. I sincerely liked both of them and I enjoyed their relationship, but I felt like, once again, their conversations were written with a cinematographic quality in the sense that they were so fast-paced and short that I never really got a sense of their tone of voice. I sensed chemistry between them, but the focus of narration moved too quickly away from their dialogue and banter to allow me to really revel in that feeling. This ultimately left me feeling like I wasn’t fully connected to or friendly with the characters, and I was especially disappointed by this when it came to intriguing side characters like Isobel’s aunt Emma and her sisters March and May who were so quirky and adorable, but whose emotional connections toward Isobel were somewhat glossed over and then flitted away from. So much happened in An Enchantment of Ravens that it all just happened in such a mad, dizzying blur for me.

Maybe the best comparison I can give is to relate my experience of reading An Enchantment of Ravens to my experience watching a movie and a TV show that are equally full of action. An Enchantment of Ravens is like the book equivalent of Zack Snyder’s movie Batman v. Superman – there is A LOT going on in that movie, so much that it all becomes an incoherent mess by the end. Sure, if you take a single scene and watch it in isolation, it’s well crafted, enjoyable and easy to follow. But when you cram a bunch of really overwhelming and busy scenes into one film, it all becomes a bit muddled until your left in the conclusion not knowing what the heck even happened. Then, take for example the Netflix/Marvel TV show Daredevil – there’s just as much action as in Batman v. Superman, the story is just as wide in scope, and yet because it unfolds slowly over an entire TV series, it feels for the viewer like they have truly gone on a journey, like they have lived in that world and resided with the characters. It feels more organic and natural, and I would argue that viewers of Daredevil will have a lot more to say about it and reflect upon afterwards than they would after watching Batman v. Superman, most of which will just go right over their heads and be forgotten. An Enchantment of Ravens is a more action-packed version of the Victorian novel that has been adapted into a Hollywood film production rather than a slow-burning BBC miniseries…it is a waste of a good story.

Margaret Rogerson has talent, there’s no doubt about that, and overall I enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens. Unfortunately, though, I think that fantasy novels need to be massive tomes to be successful because there is too much to establish in terms of the world and the heroes and heroines, along with the adventure-driven plot, to condense it all into a small package. So, while I would recommend An Enchantment of Ravens as a super quick fantasy reader, I felt it had much more potential.

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Stardust ~ #JNGReads

“The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, although she was very much in love.”

~ Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

Bless you, Neil Gaiman, for that paragraph alone!

Stardust is a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable fairytale by acclaimed and beloved author, Neil Gaiman. As a fan of fairytales of all kinds, from Disney’s versions of tales such as Beauty and the Beast to ancient poems detailing the adventures of Sir Gawain, I found Stardust to be thoroughly entertaining and I would highly recommend it as a quick but fun and adorable read to young adult readers, as well as older readers with a youthful and fantastical spirit.

I should mention that I have never read any other works by Gaiman. I was encouraged to read Stardust by my brother, who recently became a big fan of Gaiman’s work after reading American Gods. My brother thought that American Gods wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, however, so he passed Stardust over to me as soon as he finished it. My husband recently devoured and loved Gaiman’s graphic novel “Sandman”, and so he too was excited for me to delve into Gaiman’s catalogue. There is no doubt that Neil Gaiman is a literary genius, with a versatile writing style that is equally impressive and awe-inspiring, and Stardust was certainly a well-written, well-constructed and imaginative work that I believe deserves a high rating for its uniqueness and creativity, as well as its flow and easily digestible structure.

Having said that, while I was not familiar with Gaiman’s writing before picking up Stardust, I had seen (albeit years ago) the film adaptation of this fairytale. Normally I would hesitate to pick up a book after seeing the movie version because I often find the movie clouds my judgment and perception of the original written text if I do this, but in the case of Stardust, I felt that I had seen the movie so long ago (when I was in high school) that it made sense to read the text and then revisit the movie. I was sure that I had forgotten enough of the movie to make the book interesting to me in its own right. And that is, in many ways, true – there were several aspects of the tale that I had forgotten entirely, a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming at all, and the things I did remember from the film (such as the ending, for example) were altered and different enough in the book that I found I could enjoy the written story in and of itself. Nevertheless, there were elements of the movie that I did have some memory of, which I found lacking in the story – for the first time ever, it seemed to me that the film adaptation delved more deeply into the histories and backgrounds of certain fascinating characters, such as the witch and the sky-ship captain (played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro in the movie, respectively), and I felt while reading that I only had a half-formed, very weak understanding of these characters. I also felt that in the movie version, the relationship between Tristran Thorn and the star Yvaine is fleshed out better and more organically and naturally. I almost felt as though, although the book was definitely entertaining and enjoyable, there was some sort of spark missing from it.

I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads that implied that for these reasons the film adaptation of Stardust is better than the book…I wouldn’t go that far! I think that in this particular case, one really must look at the movie and the book as two totally separate entities. The book is, according to Gaiman’s own admission in the Introduction, a tale he sat down to write spontaneously and probably completed in a few hours. It’s almost the outline of a tale more than a story itself – it serves as more of a summary, a rubric for a fairytale that has immense room for expansion. I think that’s what the film adaptation did: it took this very short, tiny novel and fleshed it out, imagined scenarios and events in the peripheral that Gaiman certainly hints at but doesn’t delve into himself, and it made those real, depicted them in a way that honours and pays homage to Gaiman’s actual text but also gives it more depth and life. The movie is, then, more of a love letter to the book than an adaptation of it.

With all that said, I really did enjoy Stardust very much, and I am glad that I read it. I do absolutely think I’ll read more of Gaiman’s work, particularly in other genres to get a sense of his versatility. Overall, I would call my reading of Stardust an unequivocal success!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were a Movie ~ #JNGWatches & #JNGWeds

Why would anyone have a Christmas wedding?

Isn’t that time of year busy enough already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Very Best Hallmark/TV Christmas Movies

(Long live the Hallmark Channel!)

  1. Merry Matrimony
  2. December Bride

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

  1. A Bride for Christmas

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

  1. The Mistletoe Promise

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

  1. A Holiday Engagement

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

  1. Love You Like Christmas

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

  1. A Christmas Kiss

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

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

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

  1. Once Upon a Holiday

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

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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 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