JNG’s 2018 Reading Round Up

Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for joining me as I round up my reads (the good and the bad) of 2018!

You can find more bookish photos of me and my best friend on our bookstagram, Emerald & Opal!

I have to start by saying that I actually somehow managed to read 75 books this year!!!  I don’t mean to brag, but this is a pretty remarkable feat for me because I only set my Goodreadsgoal at 50 books, and what with starting a new job that has kept me extremely busy and has limited my lunchtime reading, and considering the fact that this was my first year being married and so it included a honeymoon when I didn’t read at all, I don’t know how on Earth I managed to surpass my goal by 50%.  But honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of myself because back in university, sure I did a TON of reading and probably read around 75 books a year, but most of those were selected for me by professors and were required course readings. This year, though, I chose all 75 books, carefully curating exactly what I wanted to read and when, and I did write at least a short review (and often a very long one) for every single book.  I would easily call 2018 my most successful reading year ever!!!

With that said, I want to take stock of all the books I read in 2018.  I was originally intending to use the same “awards system” I established in 2017 to detail the best and worst of what I read in specific categories, but my reading turned out to be a bit eclectic and all over the place this year, so I felt like I should simply mention some standouts from various months of the year and explain why I was most connected to or infuriated by each one.  I also should mention that I’ve found in the last few years, and probably particularly in 2018, that my ratings have become incredibly nostalgic and sentimental – somehow, I’ve evolved into this person who, despite having a Master’s in English, can’t seem to rate books based on rigid or strict criteria.  Instead, I always and without fail assign stars to books based on how they make me feel, based on whether or not I get all warm and fuzzy while reading them and based on how many characters touch me profoundly and become friends to me.  Perhaps this isn’t the most consistent or sophisticated way to evaluate books, but I just can’t help it!  Ever since I was a young girl, reading has been an escape for me, and although sometimes school got in the way and made it more of a job, I’ve finally gotten back to a place where I am reading purely to entertain and enjoy.  Reading is, in that way, my life’s greatest salvation…and if that means I give a smutty romance novel or a far-fetched YA fantasy 5 stars every once and awhile because it made me smile on an otherwise trying day, well, that’s just fine by me!

January 2018

  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman – This was (*gasp*) the first Neil Gaiman text I ever read, and it really set the tone for many of my other reading choices in 2018.Without doubt, Neil Gaiman is the author I am most proud to have finally read in 2018, because he really is a genius and can write so many styles and genres, that it just blows my mind!  My husband is also a big fan of Gaiman’s graphic novels, and we ended up watching the recent TV adaptation of American Gods together in like all of one day, so reading Gaiman is something I can bond with my husband about as well, even though he doesn’t read novels and I’m not a huge graphic novel fan.  Definitely was missing out by not having Neil Gaiman in my life prior to this past year!
  • 99 Days by Katie Cotugno – I was not a fan of this book at all, and it was my first real disappointment of 2018. Trust me, unfortunately there would be many more before the year was through.

February 2018

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This book was FABULOUS and was the first book of 2018 that really blew me away! I was sort of astonished by it, particularly because I had read several of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books prior and was surprised by the change in tone with this book to something a lot more serious.  Huge fan of this read!
  • Snotgirl – Like I said, I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, but for some reason I fell in love this year with Snotgirl. I read the first two volumes this year and just adored the art style, even if the story seemed a bit all over the place.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – This is the first book of 2018 that I thought I didn’t give my all to, and it made me wish I were back in school. This is a dense and powerful novel and I knew instantly that I would have to revisit it someday to fully comprehend its beauty.
  • Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren – I did not like this book that much and I was super disappointed by my first foray into Christina Lauren’s catalogue…but wait, they would soon do a complete 180 for me, so stay tuned!
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – I had some seriously complicated feelings toward this book because it was so easy and quick to read but struck me as very offensive.I still have yet to watch the film adaptation because I was just so over the story after reading it!

March 2018

  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Gaiman strikes again! I should mention that this is probably my favourite Neil Gaiman book I’ve read to date.

April 2018

  • Summer at Tiffany’s by Karen Swan – I finally picked up the sequel to Christmas at Tiffany’s, a favourite of mine, and adored it! I would go on to read many more Karen Swan books in 2018…and unfortunately, towards the end of the year, she did a 180 for me but in the opposite direction of Christina Lauren…
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I am officially obsessed with him!

May 2018

  • A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas – Talk about reading as an escape…here, I got the chance to revisit some of my best book friends, and despite how short the novel was, I loved every single moment of it.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – This was another huge disappointment of 2018. I had this book on my To-Read List for years, and when I finally got around to reading it, I was like Waaah?!?!  Very upset about this one!
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – And thus began my journey into the world of Aelin…… I did take a brief break halfway through reading the series, but truly, this series shook me and has without doubt been the highlight of my 2018 reading journey!

June 2018

  • Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson – I read two books with this exact same title in 2018.This was the first and I loved it and am looking forward to reading more of Matson’s books very soon!

July 2018

  • Beautiful by Christina Lauren – And here it is, the first 180 of 2018: after being unenthused by Dating You / Hating You, I picked Beautiful up super cheap at the bookstore and blew through it. It made me feel warm and so happy, and was a definite favourite of the summer months!
  • Just One Day by Gayle Forman – Another major disappointment and one that I had on my To-Read List for so long too. I still have no idea what all the hype is about – and believe me, I wish I did!
  • The Greek Escape by Karen Swan – Loved this one, although not as much as Summer at Tiffany’s

August 2018

  • Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight – Book #2 with this title and I thoroughly enjoyed it as well!
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – I’m reading this book out loud to my husband and we still haven’t finished it, but it is extremely well written and is another testament to how incredible Gaiman’s talent is!

September 2018

  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas – This book broke me and the review I wrote of it is my favourite review I have ever written (and possibly one of the shortest too)!

October 2018

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – This book also broke me, and although a lot of readers have called it torture porn, I really liked it and found it very moving.I don’t regret reading this one whatsoever.
  • Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas – I still can’t talk about this one. I just…can’t.

November 2018

  • Roar by Cecelia Ahern – This was the worst book I read in 2018. I hate to be mean, but it was just way too simplistic and on the nose and cliché.  I was vehemently not a fan of this!
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – But then again, I really wasn’t a fan of this one either. It was my first try at reading a Morton novel and I regret that I didn’t pick up one of her other books because I’ve noticed that a lot of her fans were confused by this one.  It truly was all over the place.

December 2018

  • The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan – 2018’s second 180 came when I struggled with this novel, even though it was written by an author I adore. But, I guess we can’t always love everything someone writes (unless they’re Neil Gaiman apparently)!
  • Jane by Aline Brosh McKenna & Ramón K. Pérez – I ended 2018 by reading a graphic novel adaptation of my favourite book of all time, Jane Eyreby Charlotte Brontë. And while it didn’t wow me, I was happy to return to some old friends at the end of a long year.

So that’s about it from me.  If you chose to stick around and read this entire round up, thank you so very much!!!

Now, I better get back to my first book of 2019…no time to lose!

xo

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

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JNG 2017 Green Heart Awards

Hello dear Readers and welcome to 2018 on The World of my Green Heart!

As you all know, 2017 (and particularly the end of the year) was an extremely busy and exciting year for me – I moved into a new home in a beautiful part of Toronto, I planned an epic (if I do say so myself) Victorian Christmas wedding, I got 2 tattoos (that’s right, I’ll have a post about my second and latest tattoo coming soon!)…and, just over a week ago, I said I Do and officially became a wife. I am absolutely intending to post an entire entry about my wedding day once I have the professional photos, but I will say now that the day was everything I dreamed of and I am reveling in being able to finally call SS my husband!

With all that said, the focus of today’s post is to discuss the books I read in 2017 and rank some of my absolute favourites, so that I can go into 2018 with a clear head and with a log of what worked for me in terms of genre and style in 2017…

Back in January 2017, I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year at 18 books. In hindsight, that wasn’t really a reasonable target for myself, considering how many books I managed to finish in 2017, but my logic was that I would be commuting to and from work for the entire year and wouldn’t have much time to read at home. I found, though, that when I moved into my own place in May, which is a mere walk away from my workplace, I had so much more time at night to delve into my books and devote time to finishing them. So, I ended up reading a total of 59 books in 2017, which I am EXTREMELY proud of. For that reason, I felt that I needed to devise some sort of ranking system to wrap my mind around all the books I read and determine which ones were my favourite and which authors and genres I’d like to revisit. Thus, I’ve created a few awards that I’d like to hand out to the books I read in 2017 – I intend to use this same sort of ranking system in future years to summarize my reading experiences and be able to reflect back on them and see how my preferences as a reader have evolved. With that said, here are my awards for 2017…

*Note: I have excluded Jane Eyre from eligibility for any of these awards because it is my favourite novel of all time and I didn’t feel it would be fair to include it.

Best Short Story or Essay Collection

Although I did read a couple of short story collections this year, the choice for this particular award was obvious to me. I absolutely adored the collection The Dead Husband Project by Sarah Meehan Sirk. It became an instant favourite for me as soon as I completed it, and I’ve even gifted it to friends because I felt so passionate about it. I am so happy I got the chance to be exposed to this remarkable Canadian author, and I would recommend this collection to anyone who likes absurd, unsettling but also incredibly profound stories.

Best Adaptation

This was a tough one – I read a fair number of adaptations of more classic stories this year, and I particularly enjoyed Jane Steele and Eligible. However, I had to give this award to Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. Perhaps I’m biased because of my fondness for Edward Fairfax Rochester’s character, but I found Shoemaker’s adaptation and interpretation of his story to be so touching and like a love letter to Charlotte Brontë’s original work. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of Jane Eyre!

Best Young Adult Novel

I read a TON of young adult novels, so it was really very tricky to pick my absolute favourite of 2017. When I sat down to really think about it, though, the answer (as with my favourite short story collection above) was obvious. I simply had to go with Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I loved this book and was truly blown away by it, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the film adaptation, which also came out this year. I can’t really say enough good things about this novel and I think that every single teenager must read it because it provides such a unique and poignant look at the effects of bullying. (Sidenote: In my opinion, it is so much more successful at treating the topic of bullying than Thirteen Reasons Why.)

Best Chick Lit./Romance Novel

This is another genre of novel that I read A LOT of, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to pick The Hating Game by Sally Thorne for this award. I am OBSESSED with this novel, and I have been wanting to reread it since I finished it about a year ago! It is just that good and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone and everyone. I have a strong feeling I will be reading it again sometime this year, and I am anxious to read whatever Sally Throne produces next because I find her writing style to be so distinct and accessible.

Best Fantasy Novel

Somehow I ended up reading many fantasy books this year, even though I had never been a fan of the genre until this year. I burned through several fantasy series in 2017, and I have many more lined up to read in 2018. With that said, one particular fantasy novel stands out to me as the best, most creative and heart-pounding one I read this year, and that is Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (pictured at the very start of this post). The Six of Crows duology is an absolute masterpiece, but Crooked Kingdom left me in tears and truly touched me. I have recommended it to friends and passed it along to my mother, and I don’t think I will ever forget the story and characters!

Best Series

Although the Six of Crows duology was certainly a frontrunner for best series I read in 2017, I have to award that title to the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. This series got me interested in the fantasy genre this year, and without it, I wouldn’t have been exposed to any of Bardugo’s work. I was so immersed in the stories throughout the ACOTAR series that I found it hard to let go of them after finishing all three books, and I found myself rushing out to by Maas’ other series, Throne of Glass, which I intend to read in its entirety this year. I owe my interest in a genre that I never before thought I would enjoy to Maas’ writing, and that is why the ACOTAR series will forever hold a special place in my green heart!

Worst Reads of 2017

I hate to do this, but there were two books that absolutely outraged me in 2017 and that I just could not bring myself to say anything good about, despite the hype and praise surrounding them. The first is Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. I don’t want to go into another rant about what I didn’t like about this book (trying to keep the warm and fuzzy festive feeling for as long as I can, you know!), so if you’re interested, you can read my specific review of it here. Along the same vein, I really did not enjoy the novel Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which is equally lauded by readers. Again, I won’t go into too much detail (you can read my review of this novel here, if you like), but suffice it to say that I just did NOT understand what everyone loved about these two novels and I felt more frustrated than anything about them!

Top 3 Reads of 2017

This was tricky (particularly with Jane Eyre excluded from the pack), but here it goes…

3) Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

2) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

1) The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

So, what do you all think? Do you agree with my choices and do you have any recommendations from these genres that I should read in 2018? Please do let me know down below!

xox

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

 

A Letter to Mr. Rochester

Dear Mr. Rochester–

My name is Janille N G and we first became acquainted eight years ago. I do not expect you to remember me, as I am sure you meet many new people each year, most specifically young women. We have, however, rekindled our acquaintance multiple times over the course of the last eight years, and I have thought of you, and indeed of your dear wife Jane, often. I have particularly been thinking of you both this past year, and it is with this in mind that I decided to write you this letter.

Sir, I write to you mainly to express once and for all that I am your greatest advocate and biggest fan. When I first met you, I admit that I knew nothing of you at all and knew not what to expect. None of my acquaintances had met or spoken to you, save for my literature teacher who urged me to make time to meet you and Jane. I knew very little about your country of origin, your culture or the time period during which you lived, but I was eager to learn all of this. What I did not expect was that I would learn a great deal about myself, and about love and relationships, through my interactions with you and Jane.

I should also mention before I proceed, sir, that I am on the cusp of becoming married. I am engaged to a man who is both like you in many, unexpected ways but who is also distinctly himself. While he has never met you personally, I have spoken very highly of both you and Jane, and my dear fiancé considers you both among his friends. He and I have used your relationship with Jane as a model for our own throughout our time together, and I particularly have thought of you both regularly as I prepare to take on the role of wife. I have supported my own internal meditations by reading texts inspired by your relationship with Jane, first the gothic and macabre novel Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, and most recently the biography of your own life Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. There are only two people who can reasonably confirm any details of your life and history – yourself and Miss Charlotte Brontë – but (and I hope you will not think it too forward of me to say this) I have always felt a sincere kinship toward you and I feel that I can state with confidence that Ms. Shoemaker has done an excellent job of describing your past. Although much of what she writes is mere conjecture, from what I know having met you many times in my life, Ms. Shoemaker seems to have hit the nail on the head, as they say, with her characterization and portrayal of you as a man at times mercurial and stern, but also deeply loving, passionate and sensitive. Again, I hope you will not find it presumptuous of me to profess this opinion.

What Ms. Shoemaker brought to the forefront of my mind, sir, is your identity as a husband – not only to Jane, but also to your first wife, Ms. Bertha Antoinetta Mason. I apologize if any allusion to your first marriage is painful or unwelcome, but I am of the opinion that you became the man I hold in such high esteem, and whom Jane is clearly very fond of, during this first, albeit tragic, union. As I stated previously, I have always been and will continue to be your firmest advocate, but there are those who have chosen to criticize you for your actions towards Bertha, saying that it was heartless and criminal to keep her locked in a secluded attic. What I have learned, since finishing Ms. Shoemaker’s account of your life, is that you honestly and truly tried your best to do right by Bertha. I always somewhat blindly supported your actions because I so desperately adored your relationship with Jane, but now I have come to see how complicated and dismal the matter really was for you. How could you care for a woman who struggled with such severe mental illness while still maintaining your own sanity? How could you honour her family’s desire to keep her out of an asylum? It was admirable of you to insist that she remain at home with you, and surely you cannot be blamed for managing in whatever means you thought most safe and secure. Perhaps you didn’t have a full understanding of Bertha’s ailment, but who can blame you, considering the times in which you lived and the lack of knowledge and information on this subject. I firmly believe that you did your best, and it is clear that Ms. Shoemaker agrees. I personally would not hesitate to defend you on this point.

With all that said, I still find it hard to accept the way you handled this subject with regards to Jane. I will always feel that it would have been best for you to mention your history with Bertha to Jane from the very beginning. As I enter into a marriage of my own, I sincerely hope that my future husband and I will never have the urge nor the occasion to lie to one another as you did to Jane. But, again, I understand that you were in a difficult position, and love does in many ways make us fearful and anxious, for there is nothing worse than the prospect of lost love.

Mr. Rochester, I apologize for my ramblings and for making you read this long missive, but as I said, I have found myself thinking of you often of late. You were, truth be told, the first man I ever felt a profound love and affection for, not in the sense that I would ever want to take you from Jane, but in the sense that I sincerely wished and hoped to one day meet a man like you. Of course, I am very glad that my fiancé doesn’t have a wife hidden in his attic (that I know of), but I am also supremely happy that he is my best friend, my greatest earthly companion, my true second self and kindred spirit. I never imagined that I would be able to meet someone with whom to have a bond as strong as you have with Jane, but I will admit that I kept your image in my heart for many years as a reminder of what sort of companionship I desired. When I met my future husband for the first time, you were in my heart, and you will continue to reside in it now, as I embark on my own journey of marriage. I will forever be grateful to have you as my guide.

I am happy that you found your peace and happiness, and that you continue to live with Jane in utter harmony and adoration. My kind regards and warmest wishes to Jane and to your children. I have no doubt that I will see you all again very soon.

With much gratitude and affection,

Janille N G

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) for Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, which reminded me how special Edward Fairfax Rochester is (not that I could ever forget).

Jane Steele ~ #JNGReads

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is an excellent read! I highly recommend this one to fans of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre because it is a lot of fun, and offers a surprising spin on Brontë’s original classic.

I decided to read Jane Steele for two reasons: the first is that my best friend and fellow avid reader, CV, has been recommending it to me for at least a year; the second is that, as I get closer and closer to my Victorian-inspired wedding, I am planning to read as many novels related to Jane Eyre as possible, ending with an actual re-read of the classic a week before my wedding. Jane Steele marks the first novel I chose to read as part of what I am affectionately calling The Jane Eyre Initiative of 2017. And, I’ll start by bluntly stating that I am very glad I finally decided to read Faye’s book. It is not perfect by any means: there are some flaws with it that create a bit of confusion for the reader that is hard to overlook (and which necessarily caused me to decrease my overall rating of the book by 1 star). However, Jane Steele is extremely entertaining, and it is remarkable to me how expertly Faye employs a Victorian narrative voice. It really felt as though I was reading a traditional Victorian novel, and I liked Jane Steele instantly because of how forthright, honest and transparent she is both as a narrator and as a character. Whereas at times we are called, as readers, to question the narrative that Jane Eyre presents to us as well as feel frustration about her inability to fully express her emotions to the other characters in Brontë’s novel, Jane Steele is 100% honest with her audience about her preoccupations and concerns, and she is also an open book with the characters she interacts with. All of this allowed me to trust Jane Steele while simultaneously feeling empathy toward her. I wasn’t expecting to like her as much as I did, but I find now that she has become one of my favourite narrators that I’ve encountered in a long time.

Not only is Jane Steele an impressive and unique character, the story she tells is also unlike anything I’ve read in a while. To piggyback on what other reviewers have said, Jane Steele is NOT a retelling of Jane Eyre; instead, it is an entirely new story with similarities to that of Miss Eyre (more on this in a moment). The plot, characters and locations resemble those in Brontë’s much beloved novel, but there is enough distinction to make it clear that Jane Steele is its own story. It is also very fascinating that Jane Steele herself reads Jane Eyre, and as a narrator, she makes many references to Jane Eyre and to Jane’s character. She also quotes pieces of Jane Eyre at the start of each one of her own chapters, which is a delightful treat and which also indicates to the reader what is to come in the chapter. Jane Steele feels almost like a love letter to Jane Eyre; it is as if a huge fan of Jane Eyre (such as myself) decided to write her own story while constantly making allusions to how Jane Eyre has influenced and shaped her life and character. That is precisely what Jane Steele does: she tells her OWN, distinct story, while continually mentioning how Jane Eyre has made an impact on the woman she is. I absolutely loved how this was approached by Faye because I could see myself doing the exact same thing if I were to write a memoir!

There’s also so much to love about Jane Steele as a work of fiction itself: it is dark, macabre and gothic, but there are also moments of sarcasm and wit (particularly between Jane and her love interest, Mr. Thornfield) that take the reader pleasantly by surprise. Jane Steele is a bit ballsier than Jane Eyre, and she isn’t afraid to flirt, swear and generally hold her own in a conversation. She is not the governess who hides behind the curtain or shrinks into the wallpaper. Faye also does an excellent job portraying Indian culture in her treatment of the new occupants of Highgate House, and I truly felt as though she handled the concept of the “other” with tact and expertise. I found myself becoming so interested in the culture of Sahjara and Sardar Singh, and the overall ambience at Highgate House was warm, inviting and intoxicating. There wasn’t a character in the entire novel that I didn’t like; even Jane’s awful aunt Barbary and cousin Edwin were portrayed in a way that made them necessary to the structure of the story and that added something significant to the plot and to Jane’s character.

Honestly, there’s not much not to love about Jane Steele because it is just the wildest ride and is so well-written! Having said that, I couldn’t give it a full 5-star rating and that is actually down to the fact that I think it relied too heavily on similarities to Jane Eyre at points. As I mentioned, I really liked the fact that Jane Steele is a huge fan of Jane Eyre and that she uses this affection and passion as a tool to write her own memoir. The references to points in Jane Eyre that resemble moments in her own life, as well as the inclusion of important quotes from Jane Eyre, was really well done and not something I at all had an issue with. Instead, I found problematic the fact that much more of Jane Steele’s life resembles and is nearly identical to Jane Eyre’s life, and yet Jane Steele fails to mention or highlight these aspects. For example, the very fact that Jane Steele’s name is Jane or that her love interest’s name is Mr. Thornfield, which is obviously a nod to the setting of Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall…to me, it is strange that Jane Steele wouldn’t mention what a coincidence it is that so many of the names of people she encounters line up with those in her favourite novel. I don’t know how to properly articulate this, but it almost felt as though Faye was dropping hints to the reader about how similar Jane Steele’s story is to Jane Eyre’s, and yet she fails to make those hints visible to the fan of Jane Eyre she creates herself, Jane Steele. It’s almost like Faye wants the reader to say, Oh hey, that’s a cute nod to Jane Eyre! while simultaneously making her own character oblivious to this connection. It was a bit confusing to me. In the same vein, it made no sense to me that Jane Steele also has a tumultuous relationship with her aunt and cousin, and also attends a horrendous boarding school, and yet doesn’t address the fact that these details are so close to those endured by her literary heroine. It felt to me that Jane Steele’s trajectory was TOO SIMILAR to Jane Eyre’s in many regards…I would’ve preferred if instead, Jane Steele’s story diverged more clearly from that of Jane Eyre in terms of major plot points, but without omitting the moments when Jane Steele reflects on how Jane Eyre shaped her identity.

The best way to explain this clearly is probably to use myself as an example: I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in grade 12, and it hugely shaped who I am in terms of my ideals, my literary preferences, my passions, etc. In many ways, my life resembles Jane’s in that I have had to stand up to authority figures on multiple occasions, in that I worked as an English tutor to young children for many years, and in that I stumbled upon my fiancé unexpectedly and he, much like Mr. Rochester, has a checkered past of romantic foibles. There are more examples of how I identify with Jane Eyre, and more become clear to me every day, BUT my life is not identical to Jane in ways that are major and impossible to overlook: I am not an orphan, I did not attend a boarding school, I did not work as a governess in an employer’s home, etc. So, were I to write a memoir, I would absolutely emphasize the points in my own story that remind me of Jane Eyre’s and make frequent reference to Charlotte Brontë’s novel and the influence it has had on me, but my life would not come across as eerily similar to Jane’s. I feel like Faye should’ve taken this approach to Jane Steele: yes, it is a great idea to make Jane Steele’s story harken back to Jane Eyre’s in subtle ways, but to have these overwhelmingly obvious plot points that are identical to those in Jane Eyre, or to give characters names that are identical to those used in Jane Eyre, seemed too heavy-handed to me. I simply wish that Jane Steele was a touch more unique and didn’t rely on Jane Eyre’s plot so frequently…and I think that these glaring similarities are what make readers think Jane Steele is a Jane Eyre retelling, which it most certainly is not and which is an assumption that I believe takes away from how poignant and brilliant Jane Steele is in its own right.

Overall, Jane Steele was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As I said, a few things about the plot could’ve been tweaked to give it more credibility as a unique, new and fresh story, but I would still highly recommend it and I may even read it again one day.

My Favourite Quotes from Jane Steele

(To entice you to pick it up because it is just so well-written!)

“I felt these insults, reader, and I collected them, strung them like sand hardened pearls, and I wore them, invisible; I wear them today.”

If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it: I will be another embodied disaster.

But I will be a beautiful disaster.

“Swallowing, I placed the cheque in my reticule with the two letters. I did this, reader, because the most idiotic thing Jane Eyre ever did other than to leave in the first place was to depart without her pearl necklace and half Mr. Rochester’s fortune, which he would gladly have given her. If she had been eaten by a bear upon fleeing penniless into the wilderness, I should have shaken that bear’s paw.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Eligible ~ #JNGReads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Ambitious, But Not Impossible Reading Plan…

Hello again dear Readers!

I’m actually here, doing an update on a Sunday…go figure!

Today marks the first day of October and the start of the best time of year! In my opinion, the stretch from the beginning of October to the end of December is the loveliest time because of the perfect, crisp Fall weather and the anticipation of Christmas and the New Year. As you all know already, this Christmas is going to be particularly exciting for me, and so I am already counting down the days until 2017 wraps up.

With that being said, I was recently thinking about how I want to end my reading year. How many more books do I hope to finish before 2017 is up? Which book do I want to be reading the week before my wedding? Do I have time to finish another series before then? This all led me to make a list of the books I currently own and hope to have read by the time January rolls around. This is somewhat ambitious because last minute wedding planning is ramping up, but I am confident that I can at least get most of this list done.

What do you think – can I do it? Are there any books you would recommend I swap into this list?

The Books I Want To Finish Before January:

(in the order that I would like to read them)

  1. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  2. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  4. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
  5. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  6. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
  7. Jane Eyre by (the queen) Charlotte Brontë

Notes:

If I can manage to finish all 7 of these books before the end of 2017, that will bring me to a grand total of 52 finished books for the year… MUCH higher than my Goodreads goal of 18 books which in hindsight was very low. (I’m thinking of setting a goal of 52 books for next year, but we’ll see how that goes!)

As you can probably tell, I’m going for a Jane Eyre theme leading up to my wedding. I definitely want to be rereading Jane Eyre right before I get married (I’ll explain why closer to the date), and I thought it would be cool to lead up to this reread with some newer adaptations of my most beloved story.

So, here we go – let’s finish off 2017 with a bang!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Unworthy? – #JNGReads

“He is a good man. She will be a good woman.” – from “Behind the Mountain” by Evie Wyld (in Reader, I Married Him)

I hope you don’t think I’ve given up on writing about love and romance because of the more literary posts I’ve been writing lately.

No, I’m just as obsessed with and enthusiastic about love as ever, and I still seek to find relevant romantic tips in every book I read. Today, I’m going to share a quote from “Behind the Mountain” by Evie Wyld, one of the many stories in the collection Reader, I Married Him (which I reviewed two days ago and talked about last week), which resonated with me because of its mention of an element that I think is essential in any successful relationship (whether it be with a significant other, a family member or a friend).

~ Goodness ~

Being good is something that society seems to be taking for granted these days. In my humble opinion, far too many people have forgotten that a little kindness, sympathy and empathy can go a long way. What’s worse, in my opinion, than the fact that strangers treat each other nonchalantly, not even raising their heads to give a genuine “Hello!” on the street, is the fact that relationships today seem to be largely devoid of compassion. I’ve ranted about my dislike for Tinder enough here on the blog for you all to have a sense that modern day dating is not my favourite enterprise. I tried it, believe me, and up until I met my incredible fiancé SS, I was pretty convinced that I would never have a decent relationship (if I even had one at all). I basically gave up any hope of True Love, a gorgeous wedding, a devoted marriage and a loyal family. For me, as the hopeless romantic I am and believing in the power of True Love to overcome all obstacles, this was a very sad, pessimistic and depressing time. I just couldn’t make myself believe that love was out there for me, though.

In hindsight, this seems quite ridiculous, but I do feel that I had good reason to be less than enthusiastic about love in my early twenties. It’s just that, every single guy I met turned out to be a royal a**hole! (Hopefully none of them read this little blog, but I find it unlikely, so I feel okay about saying that!) It’s not that they were horrible guys inherently – not at all – I like to think I have better taste than to like a terrible person. They just seemed to be preoccupied with and interested in things entirely different from what I wanted, and while that’s completely fair, they chose to go about revealing this to me in ways that were anything but good.

It is NOT okay to hurt people, and it is definitely NOT okay to be okay with hurting people. What I find nowadays, though, both from my own experience and from stories my friends tell me, is that people feel it is okay to be mean and rude and cruel in relationships. Maybe they don’t actively think about it (I like to believe that most people would choose not to be mean if they realized they were doing it), but nevertheless, most people today are very laissez-faire about treating others, even their significant others, well.

I think, most of all, what this quote from “Behind the Mountain” makes clear is that being in a relationship requires augmenting your standards of behaviour. Being in love goes hand in hand with being a better person, with striving to be the best, most affectionate version of yourself. Without that desire and drive to be a person worthy of the love and respect you receive in return a relationship can easily crumble, fall apart, and irrevocably wound each party. And for what? Why not, instead, let your heart be open and good, and let love flow in?

Happy Sunday Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Reader, I Married Him – Stories Inspired by Charlotte

As promised, here is the detailed review of the collection of short stories inspired by Charlotte Brontë, Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier. I liked this collection a lot – I found all of the stories to be very unique, and although I sometimes craved a closer connection to the work that inspired them, Jane Eyre, I did thoroughly enjoy entering each of the different worlds. Some of the stories truly inspired me and I would absolutely recommend this book to any fans of Charlotte who are looking to take their knowledge of her text a step further.

❥❥❥ The Epigraph = “For Charlotte, of course.”

Foreword (by Tracy Chevalier) = of Jane = “we can relate to her, and cheer her on.” !!! friends with Jane Eyre

  • “Who can resist a character like Jane Eyre?”
  • “The mouse roars, and we pump our fist with her.”
  • “Reader, I married him.” = interesting identification that JE is asserting self and agency here; she does the choosing (read my blog post on this concept here)!
  • “Always, always in these stories there is love…” Count me in!

My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley

  • Woah! Reminds me of an Alice Munro story. Such a strange, troubled dynamic between Jane and her mother, who seems to be a bit of a Mrs. Reed and a Bertha figure! This Jane is also defiant, claims the man for herself, and is strong, intelligent and unwavering despite her surroundings!

Luxury Hour by Sarah Hall

  • seems quite random and unrelated to Jane Eyre. I have to give this one more thought, as it puzzles me. I suppose it would be like JE meeting Rochester in the street if she married St. John = a flash of passion, a flashback of love that never dies.

Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore

“I have not yet lost my voice.” Jane as the villain.

  • scene of Bertha rubbing her face with the red satin ribbon is so touching and sad. I almost cried at this story! It made me enraged to think of Grace with Rochester, but it also made me madder than I ever expected to think of Bertha locked up all alone.

Danger Dogs by Kristy Gunn

  • I like the idea of Rochester appearing to be “all tough and mean” but just needing to be loved = he is sensitive. This story isn’t my favourite because it doesn’t have much meat to it and is too fast-paced BUT the voice of the narrator is so distinct. You can tell she isn’t a writer and that style must be hard to convey in a story.

To Hold by Joanna Briscoe

  • this story is so sad and makes marriage seem formal, devoid of love and only focused on convenience and having a companion for aid in life = True Love is outside marriage and forbidden.

It’s a Man’s Life, Ladies by Jane Gardam

  • another bleak picture of marriage. The connection to Jane Eyre is vague here!

Since First I Saw Your Face by Emma Donoghue

“‘Or should I say, Edward married me?’” Opposite of JE. Minnie had no agency in marriage and was “‘picked…out’”.

  • narrator, Ellen, like any modern woman, is astonished by lack of choice in marriage.
  • Minnie = “‘I’ve never been responsible for my own life.’” = woman has no identity in marriage.

“‘I say Love is God.’” YES!!!

  • This story seems a bit gratuitously entered in this collection. Yes, it presents a marriage without female agency wholly unlike JE’s, but since Mary Benson was a real person, the connection between her life and Jane’s story seems a bit random and forced. I very much enjoyed the story and Ellen’s ideas about love and marriage (which evoke Jane’s strength, opinion and defiance) though!

Reader, I Married Him by Susan Hill

“Security was all I ever longed and struggled and schemed for…” “If I did [achieve it], it was through men, not through my own effort.” = it is very problematic for a woman to require men to feel safe, rather than finding it within, as Jane comes to. = marriage is an institution meant to create security, but does it always?

“look at me and judge me from a time when women had so few options.” = but JE had few options too, but she still married on her own terms!

“‘I want to inhabit you, have all of you’” = does love mean losing yourself and your autonomy/identity?

“People who are so comprehensively in love often want to dominate and overpower.”

The Mirror by Francine Prose

  • making Bertha into a parrot is hilarious and clever, and probably a lie Rochester would try to get away with.
  • this is what all Jane Eyre fans want: a glimpse into Jane and Rochester’s married life, albeit imperfect.
  • Prose does a nice job of quoting the original.
  • Jane’s obsession with Bertha is made into madness by Rochester = he insists that Bertha died BEFORE Jane arrived at Thornfield = a bit inconsistent with the fact that Jane saw Bertha after the wedding in the original though! ???
  • I really hope JE and Rochester were happier in marriage than this!

A Migrating Bird by Elif Shafak

“I cannot help but suspect that while I am wasting time here, my real life awaits elsewhere.”

  • this is an impossibly tragic and moving story about religion and love and issues with the two. I loved it but it hurt my heart!

Behind the Mountain by Evie Wyld

Takes place in Canada!

“He is a good man. She will be a good woman.”

  • unhappy marriage again!
  • quite random and again, no clear connection to Jane Eyre.

The China from Buenos Aires by Patricia Park

  • well into the story, and I am still wondering what at all it has to do with Jane Eyre!!! (very frustrating!)
  • maybe the fact that Teresa decides to leave Juan…but that is because (UNLIKE with Jane and Rochester) she does NOT believe she loves him.
  • truly, I struggle to find the link to Jane Eyre here = not my favourite of the stories!

Party Girl by Nadifa Mohamed

  • very interesting from a cultural perspective.

❥ “I took him in my arms and let the light in.”

  • short, simple and to the point = I enjoyed it! Although it seems only vaguely related to Jane Eyre.

**Sure, all of these stories are about love, and mostly about women navigating love, relationships and their identities, as is JE. BUT is that enough of a connection to say they’re all inspired by Charlotte’s text? Do they all have Jane Eyre essence?

Double Men by Namwali Serpell

  • I like the flow and tone of this story A LOT! Well written!

“the willingness to be hurt that marriage breeds in you” = such a sad and tragic story! And very unique in many ways.

Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark by Elizabeth McCracken

“The point was not to stay whence you came, but to move along spectacularly and record every stop.”

  • a story of two drastically different marriages which is very interesting. Bruno is gruff but so sweet and I was very fond of his relationship with Ernest! This story was both funny and terrifying at times.

My Favourites of the Collection…

Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers

❥ Edward Rochester’s perspective! WOW! This is every Jane Eyre fan’s dream!

“From our first encounter she provoked in me thoughts of other worlds.” ❥

  • all of the references to the original are perfectly placed and made new!
  • Bertha and Rochester had a child? A clever idea to explore!
  • this story is a masterpiece that all lovers of Jane Eyre must read!

Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier

  • I love this story! It paints a wonderful picture of a serene, simplistic moment in the English countryside.
  • the references to Jane Eyre are perfect and subtle (such as Poole being a location) and it is amazing to see JE and Rochester reimagined in a contemporary setting. Jenn and Ed are surprisingly unique and well developed for such a short text. Ed is very witty!
  • this story had all the passion for and devotion to Jane Eyre that I felt most of the other stories lacked.

❥ “A governess full of inner strength who marries a completely inappropriate man.”

  • I want more of what happens in Ed and Jenn’s relationship/future!

Transference by Esther Freud

❥ “‘You started to glow,’ he said, ‘and I saw you, and I wanted you to know that you are loved.’”

❥ “You can love someone in a pure way. You can hold them in your heart and nothing has to happen.”

  • I was engrossed and sucked into this story. It was so psychological and conflicting, but written with such honesty. I loved it!

The Mash-Up by Linda Grant

  • issues and conflict in planning a wedding/setting up a marriage. = Ali is Persian (not Muslim); with my own Persian boyfriend, this story speaks to me personally!
  • both main characters are NOT religious (even almost atheist = Richard Dawkins is Ali’s parents’ idol) BUT they must still navigate culture and custom to create their own wedding.
  • Okay, so this story is basically about my life and my future wedding! LOVE IT!

❥ “We were married; I had married him, the love of my life.”

  • Oh dear, the wedding ends in opinionated chaos! What a nightmare! But it does make for a good story!
  • Oh gosh! I hope my wedding is nothing like this…but it was a very entertaining story!

The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver

“A widow of fifty-seven had both too much story left, and not enough.” A snapshot of the imminent end of every marriage (in death).

“the grief had been so immersive…that it verged on pleasure.” What does one do after a spouse dies?

  • this story is so beautifully and poetically written. The tone and style are very memorable and stuck with me.

“But a firm purpose was fortifying.”

  • quite funny as well! This may be my favourite!

***I am starting to see that the stories don’t have to directly reference Jane Eyre in order to deliver an equally fascinating picture of unconventional romance (like that of JE and Rochester).

The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Audrey Niffenegger is my second Charlotte, my other literary soul mate, my artistic idol, the woman who gave me a story that rivaled Jane Eyre for my affections, another female character (Clare Abshire) to learn from and model myself after! She is the reason I bought this collection to begin with; Audrey Niffenegger writing about Jane Eyre?! Sign. Me. Up!
  • exploring Jane’s time at Lowood = the beginning of the novel, rather than the marriage at the end.
  • a fascinating, more emotional look at how Jane may’ve felt for Helen Burns.
  • orphans as guinea pigs or sex workers or maids? Niffenegger paints a horrifying picture! Also a picture of grief and mourning the loss of a first love.

❥ “When it eventually became legal, Reader, I married her.” A lovely story about a genuine and moving romance! Niffenegger knows how to create love in tough circumstances.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Holmesian

I’m now finished reading my first non-Charlotte Brontë related novel of recent weeks. Ironically enough, it’s called A Study in Charlotte and is by Brittany Cavallaro, an author I’ve never encountered. It has nothing at all to do with Charlotte Brontë though – the Charlotte in this case is Charlotte Holmes, a descendant of that venerable and brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes. In this modern adaptation of a combination of many of the great adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte teams up with the narrator and descendant of Dr. Watson, James Holmes. All I have to say about this novel is that it was such fun!

But honestly, I enjoyed this book thoroughly and I finished it within 3 days because it was light and easy and fast-paced. I haven’t read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the original Holmes and Watson, so I’m no expert on the works, but like so many people today, I adore the BBC version of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and I’m always open to a modern take on a classic.

Cavallaro’s story is different in that it turns Sherlock into a girl, makes the two main protagonists teenagers, and gives their relationship a bit more romantic electricity. While I think this made the novel more juvenile and took away from the potential for maturity and sophistication a bit, I admit that it was very easy for me to become interested in Holmes and Watson’s camaraderie and budding relationship (both professional and otherwise). I’ve also always enjoyed the mystery genre (I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a child and I spent hours inventing my own crimes and mysteries to solve, with my trusty notebook and spectacles!), and although aspects of this story were predictable, as I said, I finished it quickly and that’s testament to the fact that it was entertaining.

I also truly enjoyed Cavallaro’s use of a male narrator – James Watson is very endearing, and he comes across as intelligent, considerate, thoughtful and very caring. I enjoyed following the tale he told and created and I was eager to get back to his story because of how genuine his manner of telling it seemed. In the Epilogue, when the voice switches to Charlotte’s, I did notice a clear distinction between the tones and styles, and I did think Charlotte’s more logical, precise and scientific voice suited her character. She’s harsh and hard at times, but I did grow fond of her relationship with Jamie in the end.

The only aspect of the novel that I struggled with is its classification. I cannot decide if it’s a young adult novel and what age category it is targeted towards. Obviously, Charlotte and Jamie being teenagers suggests that it’s best suited to that age group; however, the story does deal with mature themes (such as drugs and sex and violence) in very explicit detail, so I think older teens are the correct demographic. I don’t think I’d want my 13 or 14 year old reading this story, but someone around the age of 16 or 17 would probably be able to deal with the mature subject matter. I think it’s a little too simplistic for most adult readers to be totally content with, but I enjoy a good YA novel every now and then, and A Study in Charlotte really is a good one!

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this novel to anyone looking for a quick summer/beach read. It’s not difficult or dense, and it provides the right amount of entertainment and intrigue to fill a summer vacation! Although I won’t be ranting and raving about it for weeks to come, I enjoyed the time I spent reading it!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Strong Jane – The Lessons Charlotte Taught Me – #JNGReads

“The mouse roars and we pump our fist with her.”

– Tracy Chevalier’s foreword to Reader, I Married Him

Reader, I Married Him short stories

I’m knee deep in the last work I’ve decided to read to commemorate Charlotte Brontë’s 200th birthday, and since today is May 1st and the month of April (Charlotte Brontë Month) has come to an end, I figured today was a good day to wind up my talk of Charlotte’s impressive literary career…for the present, that is.

I started reading the collection of short stories entitled Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier, this past week. A detailed post with small reviews of each particular short story in the collection is coming soon (watch this space!), but I wanted to take the opportunity today to discuss Chevalier’s foreword to the stories and address some points she makes that really resonated with me. If you can’t tell from the title, this set of short stories is inspired by Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre, specifically by the first sentence of its last chapter.

“Reader, I married him.” – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

That has to be one of the most perfect lines in all of literary history, particularly because of its simplicity and its bold and honest declaration. Chevalier and her fellow female writers take this significant line and manipulate it, play with it, pay homage to it, in a set of stories that are as unique as they are interesting. I’m eager to share my specific thoughts on each story with you, but for now, I want to focus on what Chevalier has to say about this line, in her role as editor of the collection, and what this statement from such a feisty, strong and defiant narrator means for all women.

Quite a while ago, when I engaged in my millionth reading of Jane Eyre, I wrote a post outlining exactly what Jane’s story taught me (you can read the post here). I cited lines from the novel and described why they spoke to me, why they stuck with me, and how they shaped me into the woman I am today. Jane Eyre gave me, and continues to give me, the confidence to be a woman with force and passion, a woman who is ruled by her emotions but who uses them to strongly and assertively take on the world. Jane may be plain and little and quiet, but her personality and character are overwhelming and otherworldly. She is a force of nature.

These are facts that Chevalier rightly identifies in her foreword. She discusses how revolutionary Jane is as a character, how she gives womankind a model of fortitude and determination that was unheard of in the 19th century. I agree with Chevalier wholeheartedly on these points. But what Chevalier also notes, that I hadn’t ever considered (strange, I know, since I feel like I know Jane Eyre inside and out), is that Jane’s simple statement in the last chapter is a final, direct and explicit representation of her agency.

~ Reader, I married him. ~ It’s a beautiful line because it is romantic – it calls to mind images of love rekindled, obstacles defied, happily ever after. But according to Chevalier, it is also constructed in such a way as to give Jane all of the power and, more significantly, all of the choice. By placing herself as the subject of the sentence and her beloved Mr. Rochester as the object, Jane is asserting that she chose to marry Rochester; she was the one who decided that she wished to be married to him, that domestic life was something she wanted. Jane married Rochester, and, unlike how it must’ve been for so many women of her time, she did so on her own terms.

There’s no point arguing – Rochester always wanted to marry Jane. From the moment he fell of his horse Mesrour and encountered her, he was bewitched, enchanted, mesmerized. And although he had some convoluted methods for gaining her affection, he was willing to defy customs, propriety and law to make her his wife. But Jane has morals, she has a conscience – and more than that, she craves freedom. She will not allow any conditions or circumstances to hinder or limit her, and so she must consent to marry Rochester on her own terms and in her own time, when the situation is amended to suit her best.

“‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.’”

– Jane Eyre

And, this is what Chevalier rightfully sees in Jane and argues that her defiant statement that she married Rochester articulates. At the end of the novel, in the final chapter that sums up what her life has shaped up to be, Jane has achieved that ever important power to choose. She is a 19th century heroine who will not consent to a marriage that doesn’t suit her, who will not engage in employment that doesn’t please her, who will not live in circumstances that aren’t comfortable for her. More than anything, she is a woman who makes her own decisions, who gets married when and how she wishes to the person she loves. For young women, or for women of any age, it is important, as Chevalier suggests, to remember this valuable lesson: that we, just like Jane, are always in control of our own destinies.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart