The Book I Have Avoided for Years ~ #JNGReads Wide Sargasso Sea

This year has been an incredibly challenging one for me, what with being pregnant since the first week of 2019. This particular time is especially challenging, as I am over 39 weeks pregnant and anxiously await my baby’s imminent arrival. 

So, what would compel me as a fierce lover of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë (I even have a Currer Bell tattoo!) to read what would naturally be a very difficult novel like Wide Sargasso Sea right before going into labour? I have no idea. Maybe I felt it was the last big hurdle I needed to overcome before the peaks and valleys of motherhood…a test of strength and will, perhaps? It’s also short, so I was definitely hoping I’d finish it before my baby arrived (spoiler alert: I did…he’s still not here). I can’t give any other explanations than those. 

A bit of backstory, though… I once had a vehement fight with a fellow student about this novel when I was in fourth year university. He started to go on and on (before a totally unrelated class, might I add) about how disgusting Edward Rochester is for locking Bertha in his attic because she isn’t even actually mad. I asked him what evidence he had for this because, while Brontë’s portrayal and Rochester’s treatment of Bertha is problematic in some ways (I’m mature enough to accept that), there’s still nothing in the text that says Bertha doesn’t have the issues Rochester claims she does. Well, this colleague of mine said that wasn’t what it portrayed about her in Wide Sargasso Sea…and then I went into a whole rant about how one author’s interpretation of another author’s text cannot be taken as an authority over it and said I didn’t give two figs what Jean Rhys said about Rochester or Bertha (my colleague was quick to retort, “Her name is Antoinette!”) because she wasn’t Charlotte Brontë. I told him I would never read this glorified piece of fan fiction and, admittedly, our friendship was rocky after that. 

Now here we are more than 5 years later… And I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about? This is the novel that has spawned tons of literary criticism? This is the prolific tale of Antoinette Cosway Mason that is so lauded in academic institutions everywhere?

I’m undoubtedly biased, I own that fact, but this story was just not all that impressive to me. I didn’t feel any connection to Antoinette or her voice whatsoever and I also felt indifferent toward Rochester’s narration. The story didn’t drum up any sympathy in me and I don’t feel like I learned anything from it or as though it enlightened my understanding of Jane Eyre at all. There simply wasn’t enough meat to it, and I have to say that I expected much more…I expected to be violently moved by it, either in a good or bad way, but instead I felt indifference. I expected to rant about it to my husband, to feel angry and enraged by it…or I expected to be changed by it and to feel this desire to go back to the original text and revisit things. Instead, I closed the back cover and shrugged my shoulders, thinking, “So what?” There was one moment, cited below, that made me reflect briefly on Rochester’s treatment of Bertha in Jane Eyre, but it was too short and easily skimmed over, to me, to warrant an entire novel and years of academic study. I found myself wondering why I resisted reading something, for so long, that would prove to have so little impact on me. 

“‘Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?’

‘Because I wished it. Isn’t that enough?’

‘Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn’t wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn’t looking…’” 

I find myself thinking that Rhys’ other works must be better than this. Again, I’m sure I’m biased, but I feel that maybe academics have latched onto this story to try to understand a mysterious, shrouded character without realizing that there isn’t that much insight offered in these very few pages. 

Anyway, I finally read Wide Sargasso Sea so go me! I only wish I knew why it mattered so much that I did. 

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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What’s In A Name? 🌹

Happy Monday everyone!

I hope you’re all having a fabulous start to the week!

I wanted to come on here to share an exciting baby-related update. I’ve been alluding to the fact in the last few baby posts that my husband and I have had a name for our baby boy picked out for quite some time. The truth is, we came up with this name (as well as one for a baby girl, if it turned out that we were having a girl instead) a few years ago and have had it in our minds ever since as the name we would use for our baby boy. It is a name that seems very fitting to us because it combines both of our interests and is unique, uncommon and interesting in the same way that my name and my husband’s name are. We wanted to choose a name that probably wouldn’t be shared by any of our son’s classmates (fingers crossed!), but we also wanted something timeless that would transition well into his adult life.

So, without further ado, the name we have chosen for our baby boy is…

DORIAN LEE

(You may have already guessed this from the photo at the start of this post, haha!)

Now, why would we be drawn to those two particular names? you may ask. Well, as you all most likely know by this point, I am a huge fan of Victorian literature, so I knew that I wanted my son’s first or middle name to be something inspired by that era. When my husband and I were brainstorming names, I brought up names like Edward (obviously!), and even last names like Thornton or Rochester that I thought we could use as first names if we wanted. But nothing really spoke to us or seemed right, until my husband was glancing at my bookshelves and his eyes alighted onThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. He immediately felt drawn to the name “Dorian”, and while we certainly hope our son won’t be anything at all like Wilde’s devious and pretty evil character, we instantly fell in love with the name and started referring to our (then hypothetical) future son by it. As for the middle name “Lee”, we actually intended to use this middle name for either a boy or a girl because we thought it could fit in both cases. We came up with this middle name well before we landed on “Dorian” and it is inspired by the fact that my husband practices martial arts and has a particular affinity to the legend Bruce Lee. We weren’t overly fond of the name “Bruce” but we wanted to pay homage to this influence in my husband’s life somehow, and I was actually the one to suggest “Lee” as a nice, easy middle name. We feel it sounds really lovely with “Dorian” and we have been calling our baby boy by this name since we found out his gender a few months ago.

There you have it! One of the most important decisions you can make while having a baby came relatively easily to my husband and I, and we are so excited to meet our little Dorian Lee in just over two month’s time.

Do you have any children whose names were inspired by literature or other significant passions in your life? If you’re not a parent yet, have you chosen any baby names and what are they inspired by? I’d love to hear! 🙂

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Once Upon A River ~ A New Victorian-esque Favourite ~ #JNGReads

Once Upon a River is an absolutely fabulous read, and Diane Setterfield is an author that every fan of Victorian literature must get acquainted with.

I’ve enjoyed Setterfield’s writing since I first encountered her novel The Thirteenth Tale and was immediately sucked in by her Dickensian style. I would have to say, right off the bat, that Once Upon A River is closer in feel to Setterfield’s second novel, Bellman & Black, which I adored but which I know some readers found too slow and not plot-driven enough. Having said that, I think the beauty of Setterfield’s novels are that they are usually a slow build and greater emphasis is placed on creating an atmosphere and a feeling of warmth and curiosity in the reader than delivering a cheap, quick thrill. If you’re looking for a suspenseful, edge of your seat drama, then Setterfield’s catalogue might not be for you…but if you’re looking for a subtle page-turner full of magic and intrigue, then it certainly is!

I was a bit nervous going into Once Upon A River because I’ve found myself getting distracted from reading very easily in the last few months and I just wasn’t sure if something this meandering would be able to hold my attention. But (and full credit to Setterfield’s ability to weave a tale here), I was drawn in from the very first chapter and actually found myself reading with a flashlight in bed at 2:00am one night, much to my husband’s dismay. Again, this isn’t a traditional page-turner in the sense that a mystery or crime fiction novel would be, but Setterfield evokes this sense of wonder and astonishment in the reader that makes it impossible not to want to go along for the ride down the river Thames with her. There are a lot of magical and fantastical elements to this tale as well which made it feel very reminiscent of a fairytale, but at the same time, nothing about the plot was overly far-fetched or unbelievable, and I found myself buying into every explanation Setterfield put forth without hesitation. Even her most skeptical characters also come around to believing in some magic by the end of the novel, and it was nice to see that acknowledgement that sometimes aspects of life are beyond reasonable explanation and that is okay.

This novel also felt very similar to one of my absolute favourite novels of all time, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Reading Once Upon A River actually made me want to pick up all nearly 1,000 pages of Our Mutual Friend for the THIRD time, but then I thought maybe I should finally crack open the spine of Bleak Houseinstead. In any case, Once Upon A River uses a style that reminded me of Our Mutual Friend to introduce characters slowly and focus on them in great detail but only at times and in ways that were significant to the overall story. The cast of characters in Once Upon A River, although not quite as large as that in Our Mutual Friend, is vast, and it is very fulfilling to see how each character, even those most minor ones, ends up being important by the conclusion in some of the most unexpected ways. Setterfield is also very accomplished at, like Dickens, dropping small hints about a character’s beliefs or history throughout the novel so that the reader is able to string together some ideas about the role they will eventually play in the greater story. And, even the villainous characters like Robin Armstrong and Vincent Nash become somehow pitiable because they are so complexly articulated. I also appreciated that almost every character ends up with their own “Happily Ever After” because what Victorian trope is more wonderful than that, and I am particularly pleased with how things concluded for Rita and Daunt.

One final theme that I will mention is that of childbearing and child rearing, which is a huge focus in Once Upon A River. Naturally, given the fact that I am currently entering my third trimester and will be having my first baby in a few months, I found it pretty coincidental that so much of the story of Once Upon a River surrounds motherhood and what it means to carry a child, give birth to it and raise it. Obviously standards were very different in the Victorian era, so I’m sure I’ll have an easier time in labour than a lot of the female characters, but to hear them occasionally discussing what it feels like to be pregnant and how wonderful but also frightening that can be really resonated with me. There was also so much love and appreciation for children in the novel, and that was especially nice for me to read about because it got me very excited for the road ahead of me. I think any parents or soon-to-be parents would take a lot from the novel for this reason.

Once Upon A River is a must-read in my opinion, although I would probably recommend starting with Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is a bit more traditionally entertaining and will give you a sense of her writing style before delving into something a bit more leisurely and Dickens-inspired.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Busy Day of Reading and Watching ~ New Recommendations!

I had a lovely day today, finishing up a novel I started just a few days ago, as well as getting through two TV shows I began earlier in the week. I couldn’t help but jot down my thoughts about them, so have a read if you’re looking for some new TV show recommendations in particular.

Kiss Collector by Wendy Higgins

This song relates perfectly to this YA novel…

Kissing Strangers by DNCE
“Ooh
Can’t quit, take sips
Wanna taste you
Ooh
Make wish, use lips
Kissing strangers (huhhh)
Na na na na na na na na
Till I find someone I love
Na na na na na na na na
Kissing strangers (huhhh)
Na na na na na na na na
Till I find someone I trust
Na na na na na na na na
Kissing strangers (huhhh)”

Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzZWXrlDj-A

Also, it’s an extremely catchy and fun song, so I recommend giving it a listen if you’re unfamiliar with it and are planning to read this book.

Kiss Collector by Wendy Higgins was a cute book, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion. I liked Zae well enough as a narrator (even if I did not understand her name in the slightest!), and her relationship with her three best friends was pretty endearing, but I think the novel took wayyy too long to get going and a lot of the light-heartedness was muddled by serious family drama that seemed a touch out of place at times. While this could’ve been the perfect beach/summer read, the fact that Higgins attempted to tackle big topics like infidelity and divorce while still simultaneously offering easy fun made it kind of hard to get a grip on the story. I also felt that Zae’s perspective that she and her friends should “use” guys for the entirety of Spring Break was quite flawed, and it was then hard for me to wrap my mind around Zae’s decisions about college and studying abroad only pages later. I think the novel was trying to do a bit too much in too short a time, and considering that the kiss collecting competition didn’t even get going until about a third into it and is then kind of abruptly dropped toward the end and not really concluded or addressed again, I didn’t feel like there was enough time to explore any one plot direction thoroughly enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained by this novel, but again, it somehow lacked something for me that I just can’t put my finger on. I would recommend this as a quick read if you’re spending the day by the water with friends or taking a plane or train journey somewhere, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect too much from it.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

***********

Doctor Thorne

God bless a wholesome Victorian story where all ends in happiness!

I decided to sit down and watch Doctor Thorne over the last few days after having it recommended to me by a friend a few years ago. Let’s be honest, the premise is exactly everything I always love and I was itching to get into a Victorian story again. This adaptation of one of Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels was written by Julian Fellowes, who is apparently the writer of Downton Abbey which I have never watched but have been told by 2.5 million people that I NEED to see because I would ADORE it. I don’t know that the writing of Doctor Thorne was exceptional because I have to assume that most of it came straight out of Trollope’s novel, but I’m a fan of Victorian dialogue in general and there were more than a few “Hell yeah!” moments (mostly when Doctor Thorne himself was fighting with someone) so I have to assume that Downton Abbey is also full of great dialogue.

All in all, I would say that Doctor Thorne was a bit more boring than I would have liked, and it’s not at all on the same level as miniseries adaptations like Jane Eyre and North and South. However, it was still quite entertaining with characters I found to be more interesting and engaging than expected (I’m particularly thinking of the older ladies who are extremely and delightfully catty!) and I would describe it as a pleasure to watch. It also did make me violently emotional at times, specifically when I wanted to slap Lady Arabella and Lady de Courcy in the face for how they were treating Mary Thorne and Frank, and when I found myself vehemently wishing that someone would just kill Sir Louis already because he was the biggest douchebag I have ever encountered in a Victorian story! I even had some laugh-out-loud moments, as when Doctor Thorne stands up to the aristocrats around him and isn’t afraid to deliver some blunt and hard truths, even to people he should, from a societal perspective, be careful around. (Sidenote: Tom Hollander was excellent in this, and although it is still hard for me not to envision him as Mr. Collins after his exceptional portrayal of that character in Pride & Prejudice, I was definitely endeared to him here.) Stefanie Martini was a perfect female lead as Mary Thorne and she actually reminded me in a lot of ways of Ruth Wilson in Jane Eyre, who I’m sure we can all agree is an absolute QUEEN! I think Martini should be in a ton more period dramas, if she hasn’t been already.

To sum all this up, if you like period dramas, Doctor Thorne is certainly worth a watch – I suggest making yourself a hot cuppa and getting to it on a rainy day in!

***********

Fleabag

Okay, Doctor Thorne was always going to be overshadowed by this FREAKING BRILLIANT (!!!) show. I loved absolutely EVERYTHING about Fleabag, starting from episode one, and although I don’t know very much about Phoebe Waller-Bridge, I am convinced that my destiny is for her to adopt me and teach me the art of being truly witty, sarcastic, and badass! She is an utter powerhouse and I bow down to her! #queenstatus

Fleabag is probably one of the best shows I’ve watched recently. The truth is, I don’t watch much television generally because if a show doesn’t engage me within one or two episodes, I will throw in the towel without hesitation. So, if I’m watching a show and flying through it in its entirety in less than a week, you know it has to be good. Well, suffice it to say that Fleabag is hilarious, VERY entertaining, poignant, profound, heart wrenching, over-the-top, endearing, and easily one of the best shows of our time. The topics it tackles, from infidelity to cancer to suicide (to name only a few), are all completely on point and thoroughly contemporary, and every plotline is cleverly written, in an engaging and entertaining style.

The acting on this show is also FREAKING INCREDIBLE!!! Seriously, this show has some next level performances, not only from Waller-Bridge herself whose interaction with the audience is both moving and comical, but also from standouts like Olivia Colman who gives an utter knockout performance. Olivia Colman may well be one of the most talented actresses because she has such range (Don’t get me ranting on how epic she is in Broadchurch!), and I haven’t seen The Favourite but I’m convinced she deserved that Oscar because the woman can do no wrong and I never realized what incredible comedic timing she has. Season 1 of Fleabag is good, but season 2 is absolutely phenomenal, and Andrew Scott is a perfect addition as Hot Priest. His chemistry with Fleabag literally gave me chills because he comes across as oh so charming – literal proof that he is an amazing actor because he was creepy as hell as Moriarty in Sherlock, but there is none of that leftover in this character.

My personal favourite character, though, is Claire. She reminds me a bit of myself in some ways (My husband agrees with this – should I be worried?), but what mainly made her appealing to me as a character is that she is so complex and complicated. Her emotions are articulated with such subtle nuance, and it broke my heart at times and made me burst out laughing at others. Her chemistry with her sister Fleabag is probably the best thing about the show…and that is saying A LOT!

Fleabag is an ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH!!! Honestly, if you haven’t watched it already, what the **** have you been doing?! It’s totally bingeable and will have you rethinking so many things about life, love and family. 1000/10!!!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

2.5 Million Delayed Reviews ~ #JNGReads

 

Hi Everyone!

This might be a bit of a boring post, as it’s going to be a collection of reviews that I recently posted on Goodreads. I’ve read quite a few books lately, but didn’t feel the urge at the time of finishing them to sit down and write reviews. The other day, though, I was feeling inspired to get back to review writing because it’s something I’ve always enjoyed so much, and so I decided to find some time to sit down and write down my thoughts about the books I’ve delved into over the past few weeks. It felt really good to do this, sort of like getting back a piece of myself after a rough reading start to the year, and I am definitely feeling encouraged to continue not only reading but also writing about one of my favourite things on the planet – BOOKS! – a lot more before (and hopefully, after) my baby arrives in the early Fall!

Roomies by Christina Lauren

This was the first book I read to get me back in the swing of things and out of the most serious reading slump I have ever experienced, and it was definitely exactly the kind of book I needed. Sweet and sexy all at once, this story about a sort of arranged marriage (or perhaps I should say a marriage of convenience) was very engrossing and full of Christina Lauren’s usual charm and wit. I’ve had bad luck with like one Christina Lauren book in the past, but every other one has been an absolute page-turner, and Roomies was no exception. It was fun, funny but also had these heartfelt moments that made me feel connected to the characters in surprising and unexpected ways. Highly recommend this one as a quick and addictive summer read!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren

After my success picking up Roomies, I was definitely in the mood for another Christina Lauren love-fest, so I decided to delve into one of their most beloved series. I recently read the final installment, simply titled Beautiful, and I adored it, and that made me super intrigued to go back to the beginning and the story that started it all. I remembered that my mom read Beautiful Bastard way back when and REALLY liked it a lot, so I had a feeling I would too (my mom and I have surprisingly similar taste in romance novels, awkward as that may seem!), and I immediately fell in lust with Bennett. (Sidenote: Can we address what an awesome name Bennett is for a guy?! If I didn’t already have my soon-to-be-born baby boy’s name picked out, Bennett would be up for consideration!) I also seriously gravitated toward Chloe as a strong and assertive female character who is also in tune with her wants, needs and emotions, and pretty soon lust turned to love because I was flipping the pages of this book faster than one can say “F*** me against a boardroom window, please”! 😉 Everything about this novel is, in a word, scintillating and I immediately requested pretty much every other novel in this series from my library’s e-book app. Christina Lauren definitely = romance reading at its finest!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Deal by Elle Kennedy

I’m pretty sure I decided to read this novel because it was recommended by QUEEN Sarah J. Maas in one of her newsletters; I could be remembering this wrong, but regardless, The Deal did not disappoint as my first foray into Elle Kennedy’s catalogue. This novel has a lot to do with hockey, which was kind of interesting for the small-town girl in me who actually worked for over a year at a huge hockey equipment store in Canada, and I was thoroughly surprised that Garrett came across as a developed and deep male character. I was expecting him to be flat and a bit prick-ish, but he wasn’t, and his affection for Hannah and his willingness to help her through some really serious life events is very endearing. I also LOVED the fact that Hannah is a singer because it was super cool to read about, and her progression from being reluctant to get to know Garrett to fully trusting him with all of her secrets is really nice to witness. I was a fan of this book, and quickly put Elle Kennedy’s other novels on my To-Read List.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Perfect Timing by Laura Spinella

This book was beautifully written! That’s what stood out the most for me: the fact that the prose felt almost poetic, and it gave me a warm, comforted feeling. The love story of Isabel and Aidan was definitely unexpected and unique in so many ways, and I felt instantly drawn into their story as the narrative took me into their past while simultaneously showing me their present. The sequences outlining their teenage relationship were so expertly woven into their adult lives that I never had too many questions lingering that prevented me from enjoying the story, and I felt that both Isabel and Aidan were really nicely fleshed out and complex characters. There were some seriously heartbreaking moments in this novel, but the ending is a very satisfying one, and I am extremely glad that I decided to pick this novel up on a whim at a local book sale. Definitely the sort of book to crack open on a gloomy day and get totally lost in!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Summer Without You by Karen Swan

Bless you, Karen Swan, you absolute marvel! If Karen Swan wasn’t one of my favourite authors before reading this novel (but, like, she kind of already was), then she was after I finished it. The Summer Without You is the perfect blend of suspense and romance, excitement and sheer enjoyment, and I was totally blown away by it! I wasn’t expecting to become so enraptured in the story of Rowena, a photographer spending her summer in the Hamptons, but I was immediately sucked in (as is the case with every Karen Swan novel I’ve ever read) and I just could not put the book down. I hadn’t felt this excited about a book in a really long time, and Karen Swan has such a way with words that you can’t help but be swept up in her narrative. I also love all of the details about fashion that she always infuses in her stories, but, more than that, I was blown away by the plot and how many layers there were to it, as well as how many genres it fit into. I would without doubt recommend Karen Swan to any romance lover, and this novel in particular is the PERFECT summer, beach read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Beautiful Bitch by Christina Lauren

Hello again, Bennett and Chloe! This was a super fun and quick read, detailing a bit about Bennett and Chloe’s relationship after the events of Beautiful Bastard and I LOVED it! I read it mostly in one sitting and it was the perfect companion to the first novel, giving me that extra taste of Bennett and Chloe’s love story that I was craving. I think this is definitely a must-read if you loved Beautiful Bastard and it is so short and sweet that it’s a no-brainer to pick up.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

This was a so-so adaptation of my favourite novel of all-time, Jane Eyre. Don’t get me wrong, the premise was absolutely unique and unlike anything I’ve encountered in an adaptation of a Victorian novel (it is, after all, set in space), but something about the novel just didn’t give me that warm and fuzzy feeling that I believe any retelling of Jane Eyre should. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that none of the characters are as memorable as the ones from the original, particularly Stella and Hugo who simply lack the chemistry and nuance that Jane and Rochester have. There felt like there was something missing throughout my reading of this novel, and I have to say that I was disappointed by it because I was so darn excited to read it when I first heard about it. That being said, it was entertaining enough, and I think if it wasn’t a retelling of a timeless classic, it might’ve been more successful as an original story in its own right.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Mistake by Elle Kennedy

So I pretty much loved Elle Kennedy’s novel The Deal so much that I had to put this one on hold on my library’s app immediately. While I don’t think I quite liked this story as much as The Deal, probably because a large portion of it sees the main characters separated, I really did like it and think it is a great companion to The Deal. It was nice to fleetingly see Garrett and Hannah again, but I also found myself really intrigued by Logan, and he ended up being a lot more likeable and adorable than I expected. I do think the ending was a bit rushed in that Logan’s main sources of stress were dealt with a bit unrealistically and too quickly, but considering that this is meant to be a light-hearted romance, it definitely succeeded in delivering everything it promises to. Definitely a must-read if you were a fan of The Deal because it does deliver as a “sequel”!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

My original, one-sentence review of this novel was: “Karen Swan is officially solidified as one of my favourite authors ever!” That sentence is even truer now than it was a few days ago when I wrote it. The Paris Secret, like Swan’s other novel The Summer Without You, is somehow the absolute PERFECT blend of suspense and romance, with a plot that is a true page-turner but also gives you that warm, emotional feeling inside. I loved the main character, Flora, because she has this sharp edge to her that is really nice to see in a female character, but she is also extremely sensitive and is not immune to her sometimes troubled relationships with the people around her. She is also a powerhouse in the art world which made for a really interesting and unlikely story, and when the romance finally did get going, I was already rooting for Flora in so many ways but also excited for her to finally let her guard down and fall in love for the first time. Combine Swan’s incredible and engrossing writing style with the fact that the novel takes place largely in Paris and I was hooked from page one! Karen Swan’s novels never cease to amaze me, and honestly, I feel like she is the exact sort of writer I have always wished I could be. I would love to be best friends with her and get first access to all of her new stories, and my plan is actually to read through her entire catalogue by summer’s end. BIG BIG FAN!!!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Thanks for reading, as always! ❤

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Heart of the Matter ~ An Exciting Announcement!

It has been a very long time since I had anything to say on this blog and that, I think, requires an explanation.

If I’m totally honest, reading and writing book reviews has been the last thing on my mind for the past 4 months. Since the end of January, I have been distracted, unable to focus, overly tired, anxious and generally not feeling like myself at all. I could barely keep my eyes trained on a book for more than a couple of pages, and I found myself unable to even sit still long enough to pick up my book to begin with. While this is something that would normally really worry me because it is such out of character behaviour, I had an explanation for why my mood and attention span were so altered, and so I decided to just go with the flow and not be too hard on myself. Admittedly, I would normally find it really difficult to go easy on myself, particularly in relation to my reading goals, but in this specific circumstance, I truly had no other choice because my body isn’t just my own anymore.

That’s because (you may’ve already guessed it)… I’m pregnant!

I’ve heard it’s quite common to find reading very hard when you’re in your first trimester of pregnancy, and I can certainly say that was the case for me…hence the severe lack of updates and posts here. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world! Sure, I’m not going to be anywhere close to reading the number of books I did last year…but, then again, I am growing a human inside of me and am going to be raising that human into (hopefully!) a fellow avid reader, so I figure it’s okay to cut myself some slack right now. Not only that, it’s pretty hard to sit silently on my couch with a book when all I want to be doing is chatting with my husband about our little nugget, watching YouTube videos uploaded by young moms, or talking on the phone with my own mother to get advice and tips for navigating this new, terrifying and exciting time in my life. Who has time for books when life is so thrilling, am I right? 😉

I mean, I should clarify that, thankfully, I am now getting back on the reading bandwagon and have finished a couple of books (listed below, with my Goodreads ratings) in the last couple of weeks. I unfortunately didn’t sit down to write reviews of these books because I was just grateful to be reading again and didn’t want to jeopardize my momentum, but I hope to get back into writing reviews again soon. And, even if I don’t write as many reviews as I normally would, I do definitely want to write posts throughout my pregnancy as a way of documenting my journey.

So, with that in mind, here’s a little pregnancy update, if you’re at all interested…

The photo my husband and I created and posted to announce our pregnancy – expanding our family by 1 nugget!

~ I’m now 18 weeks pregnant, so almost at 5 months/the halfway point!

~ I found out I was pregnant in late January, so that was the reason I referenced in a few posts back then that this is going to be one of the most exciting and challenging years of my life.

~ Our baby is due in late September! A Fall baby…I am so into it!

~ My husband and I already have names picked out, one for if the baby is a boy and one for if it is a girl. We’ve had these names picked out for a few years now and we really love them and don’t think we’re likely to change our minds on them. I will probably write a post to share what the name we’ve chosen is sometime soon…and I will probably also reveal the gender too!

~ On a more serious note, my pregnancy has not at all been an easy one. I had no idea what to expect, seeing as I’ve never been pregnant before, but I certainly did not expect it to be this difficult. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from having a baby by any means because it is absolutely still the most rewarding, wonderful and magical experience! That being said, I wanted to be honest about my challenges because it can often seem like being pregnant is all sunshine and daisies when it honestly is not.

I was lucky enough not to experience any actual morning sickness, other than nausea in the morning and at night (knock on wood I don’t start throwing up now because I jinxed it!). My particular pregnancy challenge has come in the form of severe and heightened anxiety. I’ve mentioned here before that I suffer from anxiety and have since I was in high school, and it is definitely one of the biggest challenges in my life. That being said, I never thought I would experience more extreme anxiety when I was pregnant – it is something that is quite common even in women who have never experienced anxiety in their lives before, but it just wasn’t something I was aware of. I have been battling with my anxiety for about the last month and a half, though, and I kind of feel like it has been the battle of my life. That may seem overly dramatic, but I can honestly say that I have never felt this nervous, panicked and unlike myself in my life, and none of my former coping mechanisms have been able to help me, probably because of the insane amount of hormones that are currently being unleashed in my body. I have a lot of support from my doctors at one of the best hospitals in Canada, though, so that is very reassuring, and my husband, family and friends have been super loving and caring as well. It is a daily struggle, however, and although I’m feeling better with each passing week, I am having to be very conscious of my thoughts and moods and have started to explore meditation techniques that I never would’ve tried in the past if I didn’t have this added push to do so. I’m also reading as much about anxiety as I possibly can, and am trying to understand my mind in a way that I haven’t been able to thus far in my life. It has been, at times, an incredibly sad and depressing process to try to work through my anxieties, and I have also felt hopeless and helpless, but I am doing everything I can at this point to get myself into a healthy mindset, and I know that after doing this sort of work, I will be a stronger version of myself than ever before…which is really the best possible outcome I can think of before becoming a mother. All that to say that my number one priority is to keep myself, and, by consequence, my baby, healthy, and even though that means I’ve had to re-evaluate some things and reset my mentalities a bit, there’s no other choice that I could imagine making. If you’re a parent, you’ll understand…and if you’re not yet, I hope you one day get the chance to understand my urge to do whatever is necessary to protect my child!

~ Another thing I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around is that this baby will bring with it a change in identity for me…from who I’ve always been to A Mother. Now, obviously I’m not expecting to change who I am drastically. My husband is constantly reminding me that he was so excited to have a baby with ME because of who I am and my personality, and so none of that should change just because the baby is actually on its way. And he is so right – I definitely want to be as much myself as possible while being a mother. But that doesn’t change the fact that now my number one priority in life will be this child and my most significant job will be to be its mother. It really is amazing how, once you find out you’re pregnant, your mindset does start to shift and things that were formerly important to you seem a little less critical and monumental. I think this is something that it’s also quite hard to understand until you become a parent, but there is already nothing I wouldn’t do for this child and I would put it before absolutely anything and anyone. If that’s selfish, then so be it, because I don’t think that it’s possible to care about or prioritize your child too much. That’s just the perspective I’ve always had (most definitely because I have incredible parents who gave me the world and continue to be hugely supportive to me!), and my husband is in total agreement that having this child begins an entirely new chapter for us where this baby is and always will be #1.

And sure, maybe that will mean giving up certain things that have been important to us in the past like, for example, reading goals. Maybe I’ll never be able to read as many novels in a year as I once did, or maybe I won’t be able to go on certain types of trips, or maybe I’ll have to re-evaluate my routine in a whole number of ways…but if I’m doing all that to keep my child healthy and happy and well taken care of, then it is a trade I have no hesitation making!

It sort of reminds me of this quote I read a few years ago where Thackeray was talking about Charlotte Brontë and said:

“‘rather than have fame rather than any other earthly good or mayhap heavenly one she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with.’”

That quote has always touched me because it emphasizes the fact that Charlotte would’ve given up being a celebrated author in order to have someone to share her life with. I took that to mean that all Charlotte wanted in her life was love, and that she would’ve traded any amount of success to have a husband and a family. I personally think that’s an amazing sentiment, and those are the aspects of life that I have always wanted to prioritize myself. So, doing everything I can for my husband and my baby is a no brainer, in my opinion!

I hope this post wasn’t too boring, even though it has very little to do with books. I just couldn’t wait to share this exciting news any longer, and I hope you’ll all be interested in a few more baby-related posts to come soon!

Books I’ve Recently Finished:

1) Let That Sh*t Go: How to Find Peace of Mind When You’re Standing in Line at the Grocery Store by Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal

❥❥❥(out of 5)

2) Roomies by Christina Lauren

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

3) Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

4) The Deal by Elle Kennedy

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ Summer #JNGReads

FALL IS HERE!!!

Okay, so technically Fall hasn’t officially begun yet, but there is a distinct chill in the air here in Toronto, and I wore a long-sleeved shirt yesterday for the first time in months…and life is good!

With this transition in seasons happening, I figured it was time to finally put an end to my summer initiative and share my 5 sentence reviews with you (you can read the post where I explain all about my plan to write these types of reviews here).

Before I get into the reviews, I do want to reflect on what I learned by challenging myself to write shorter, more succinct reviews for the final weeks of the summer. It was definitely both easier and harder to write smaller reviews. In some cases, I was relieved because I hadn’t liked or hated a particular book enough to go on and on about it; if I felt indifferent toward a book, I found a 5 sentence review to be the perfect length to get my thoughts out there and not grasp at straws for profound things to say. However, in a few cases, I really struggled to write a 5 sentence review because I just loved the book I had finished so much that it felt impossible to contain all of my feelings in just 5 sentences. In two cases, I verged from my strict 5 sentence rule to write reviews that were a bit more specific to the novels, and I actually really did not like one of these novels and absolutely ADORED the other one. I found this very telling because it made me think that 5 sentence reviews are not necessarily a bad idea, but that any sort of rigidity toward review writing is.

So, to sum things up, I think I will continue to occasionally write shorter (if not exactly 5 sentence) reviews, in cases where I don’t have too much to say about a book and writing a huge review about it would be purely self-indulgent. But, in cases where I feel very passionately, one way or the other, about a book, I will stick to my tried and true method of ranting and/or raving to my heart’s content.

Here you have it…the reviews for all of the books I have read recently…

THANK YOU FOR READING!!! xo

Origin by Dan Brown

Origin is a novel that I struggled with until about 3/4 of the way into it, and that failed to capture my attention from beginning to end in the same way that Dan Brown’s other novels have in the past. Perhaps this is my own fault and my personal reading preferences and interests have changed, but for whatever reason, I was unable to truly get into Brown’s story in Origin and I found my mind wandering as I read because I was not all that interested in most of the characters and found myself bored by any chapters that didn’t directly follow protagonist Robert Langdon and describe his “quest”. My interest was only really piqued in the final 100 pages of the novel, when Langdon and his companion Ambra Vidal started to actually piece together their friend scientist Edmond Kirsch’s discovery about human existence and destiny, and prior to these revelations and the solving of the story’s “mystery”, I didn’t really feel any eagerness to sit down with the novel. For that reason, I would have to say that Origin is my least favourite of Brown’s novels, mainly because the pacing felt off and the plot didn’t seem to kick off until well into the novel, or indeed, until it was almost concluded. That being said, Brown’s stories never fail to provide a variety of interesting facts on subjects as diverse as religion, science and pop culture, among others, and I still finished the book feeling that I had learned a lot…and so my time was not at all wasted in the end.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was a pleasant enough collection of correspondence, but I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. I do tend to like an epistolary story every now and then, and I was excited to delve into this book that I had heard so much about and had on my To-Read List for so long, but I just found in the end that I wasn’t wowed by it. Helene seems to be very sassy and witty, which I liked, and Frank and his colleagues at Marks & Co. bookshop are very sweet and made me nostalgic for my many trips to England, however I felt the collection was missing that extra bit of intimacy and emotion I was hoping for. When I compare it to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I read a few months ago, I find that 84, Charing Cross Road just misses the mark a bit because it won’t stay with me or leave a lasting impression on me, and I doubt I’ll remember or think of any of the people in it months from now. Overall, 84, Charing Cross Road is a sweet read, and one that can easily be finished in one sitting, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

Karen Swan is a marvel and I will read absolutely anything she writes! I went into this novel expecting a run of the mill travel romance and instead I got a surprisingly exciting thriller, fast-paced and full of intrigue. I was also met with a cast of complex and interesting characters, and although Chloe wasn’t my favourite heroine of all time, I immediately related to her job as a lifestyle manager to very high end clients (I also have a job where I meet with clients daily) and her age (I am also 26) and her overall life (I also live in a big city like New York, albeit it Canadian). There was lots for me to connect with in this novel, as there always is with Swan’s stories, but here I was even more blown away by the intricate plot and mystery as well as the heart-pounding romance. I would highly recommend this as a beach read, a cottage read, a plane read, whatever…just read this book!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

“How quickly does a fire fanned and fed by friends grow tall.”

The Passion of Dolssa is really an incredible book, full of rich descriptions and imagery, truly unique characters and a highly emotional plot. I was very familiar with the historical aspects of this novel before even reading it because I happen to have written an essay when I completed my Master’s degree on Julian of Norwich and on terminology used by nuns in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to describe Jesus as a lover or husband, and so Dolssa’s passionate, almost sexual “relationship” with Jesus was not at all a surprise to me. What did blow me away about Julie Berry’s novel, however, was the characters she so richly created, namely Botille and her sisters Plazensa and Sazia, and how fierce, strong, loyal and unafraid they were. I was truly astounded by these remarkable females, and although the plot was quite contained in terms of place and timeframe, I found myself becoming utterly swept up in it and I was actually on the edge of my seat while reading, wondering what would happen to Botille and Dolssa and their loved ones. Something about The Passion of Dolssa just touched me very viscerally, and I would highly recommend it as a well-crafted work of historical fiction.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

This book is good…but I expected it to be better. Although I found myself occasionally getting swept up in the narratives of both Serina and Nomi (sidenote: I did appreciate the alternating points of view), for the most part, I didn’t feel that the plot was fast-paced enough. I expected to get really emotional about the characters, to really feel for them and worry for them and to be on the edge of my seat throughout all 300 pages, but I just wasn’t and I think that comes down to the fact that much of the novel is spent with Serina and Nomi thinking about how awful their situations are without a lot happening to propel them forward. I appreciate that sometimes a novel is supposed to be very contained, but I think Grace and Fury was just too focused on a short period of time for my liking. In any case, I’d probably be inclined to pick up the next book in the series, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to do so.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This is another book that I thought was good…but not great, and not as good as I expected it to be. There’s no denying that the writing was beautiful and that Winman certainly has a way with words. However, when I picked up the book (mainly because of its gorgeous cover) and read the synopsis, I expected to be moved, to become very emotional and heartbroken, while reading it, and that simply didn’t happen. I will say that I enjoyed the second half of the novel, which was told in first-person narration from the perspective of Michael, much better, but overall I found it too difficult to connect to any of the characters, and particularly to care about or feel sympathy for Ellis. Not a disappointment, per say, because as I said, the prose was lovely…but definitely not all I was hoping for, especially from the last book I needed to read to finish off my 2018 Reading Challenge.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight

Since You’ve Been Gone is a sweet and enjoyable novel that I would highly recommend as a summer read! Truth be told, there’s not much to it as the plot is quite contained and the timeframe is quite short. Having said that, I felt really drawn to Holly as a narrator and found her voice to be witty and unique, and I found myself swooning over Ciaran at several points, which is always a must for me from any romantic hero. This wasn’t the best chick lit. novel I’ve ever read by any means, but it was a wonderful respite on my subway rides home from work and when I was curled up on the couch in the evenings, and I really don’t think there’s much more you can ask for from a summer book companion than a fun journey with some nice characters! I would definitely be inclined to pick up another story by Anouska Knight in the future.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Love… From Both Sides by Nick Spalding

Love… From Both Sides is definitely one of the funniest novels I’ve read in awhile, particularly because it had me laughing out loud in my local Starbucks. That being said, it was also a novel that made me feel incredibly conflicted and confused…and this is down to the fact that although certain scenes were excruciatingly hilarious, other lines and passages seemed, to me, borderline offensive. It’s difficult for me to reconcile the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing at times when I read this book with the opposing fact that entire sections of it made me cringe because they felt overtly stereotypical, and in some cases almost sexist (I am thinking, for example, of Jamie’s description of Clare, the “chunky lass” he works with…a description I found VERY unnecessary and uncalled for!). I still don’t know how to feel about this novel because if it weren’t for the fact that some of it rubbed me totally the wrong way, I would’ve been ranting and raving about it and probably given it 5 stars. For that reason, I can’t be sure if I would recommend it because you certainly need to have a thick skin and a very particular sense of humour to find 100% of it enjoyable.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

To be clear, I am definitely the target audience for The Victorian and the Romantic because I have a Master’s in English and I specialized in Victorian literature…and of course, like most academics, I considered for many years going on to do my PhD. I myself was interested in the works of female authors in the 19th century, mainly Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and so I knew I would relate personally to Nell Stevens’ recounting of her time studying Victorian literature – but what I didn’t anticipate was that so many of the lines she wrote would seem as though they were plucked straight from my own head. This is very much a memoir for a specific reader, one who is in love with classic literature but also disillusioned by the idea of studying it in a clinical, scientific manner, and not everyone will follow or relate to Stevens’ thoughts and frustrations. I did, however, and so I would certainly be inclined to read more of Nell Stevens’ work…and to be honest, I wish we could sit down for coffee and have a good rant, haha!

My Favourite Quote

“‘I’m not cut out to be an academic…I don’t think I care enough about the sorts of things academics care about….I like reading the writing of writers I love, and I like reading about writers I love. But I’m not sure I have anything additional to say about them. I think I’m more of an appreciative fan than a critic.’”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies by Laura Stampler

When I was in high school I would’ve devoured this novel…and to be honest, I did even now.

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies was the quintessential YA summer read, and it immediately brought me back to my experiences reading novels like Gossip Girl and The A-List back in high school, when I would speed through pages in the cafeteria before the first bell rang for class. I’m probably a bit too old to be reading a book about a high school senior who does an internship at a fashion magazine in New York over summer vacation, but I was so swept up in the voice of narrator Harper that I didn’t even care – she was too fun, witty and down-to-earth not to want to spend time with. This novel is simplistic and straightforward, and admittedly the ending is a bit rushed and a lot “Happily Ever After”, but everything about the plot was exciting and entertaining, and it was the sort of book you could easily finish in one sitting, under a big sunhat on the beach. If you’re looking for a novel that is flirty and just plain FUN, this is definitely your best bet!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

 

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

Things I Liked:

– Any and all mention of Paris, one of my favourite cities on the planet. Reading this brought me right back to my honeymoon in Paris, and I certainly needed that during a stressful week!

– The fashion!

– Bonnie : I don’t know how I would’ve reacted to what she went through, but I admired her poise and strength, and her composure at such a sad time. I doubt if I would handle that sort of infidelity so well!

– Antonio : I only wish there was more of him and less of certain other characters (more below).

Things I Didn’t Like:

– The plot, focused on infidelity and secrecy…this is a topic I struggle with and find it VERY hard to read about! An affair will basically ruin a book for me, and this book had more than one.

– Sammy : I don’t want to spoil things, but yeah, see the point above.

– Matthew : Don’t even get me started on this topic. He is, in my opinion, a total scumbag! (My apologies if this offends anyone, but I’m sensitive on this subject, and that’s just a personal opinion on my part.)

– Rachael : Kind of a big deal to not like the main character in a novel, but she was really hard for me to like at all. She came across as selfish and self-serving (yes, even despite what she did for her mother), and I did not appreciate her self-victimization. Compared to Bonnie, she had so much less integrity.

Honestly, I’ll leave it there lest I start to rant…but suffice it to say that Paris got all the stars in this case.

“‘Paris isn’t always great at first impressions. It’s the details that get under your skin.’”

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

I need to not talk to anyone about this novel for approximately the next 100 years.

My grandchildren will come to me one day and say, “Grandma, did you ever read the Throne of Glass series?” And I will reply, “I’m not ready to talk about it.”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Neverwhere ~ #JNGReads

Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming my new favourite author.

To be honest, I’ve only read two novels by Gaiman: Stardust and now Neverwhere. My husband, however, is an avid graphic novel reader and he recently finished the entire Sandman collection, as well as several collections that take place within the Sandman Universe (such as Death and Lucifer). Although I haven’t read these stories myself, discussing them with my husband and having him show me bits and pieces of them has convinced me that Gaiman is a genius storyteller. My brother also spoke very fondly of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I think will be my next Gaiman endeavour) and American Gods. Neil Gaiman seems to be all around me lately, and I can’t say I mind!

Neverwhere is one of those books that I will never be able to describe or summarize. There is a lot going on in this relatively small (only just over 400 pages!) text, and much of what occurs is fantastical but still somehow totally realistic and mundane. It’s hard to put into words the vibe and tone of Neverwhere, but trust me when I say that if you love unique characters, thorough world-building, and the city of London in general, you will enjoy this wild ride. I can’t say too much about the plot because I feel like everything would be a spoiler since so much of the novel’s magic is down to the creation of this insane and yet wonderfully recognizable world, and I would urge anyone who has read any Gaiman and enjoyed it, or anyone who is interested in getting a feel for what Gaiman’s work is all about, to pick Neverwhere up. I feel, personally, that it gave me a truer sense of who Gaiman is as a writer than Stardust did because, rather than adhering to genre specific criteria as he did in creating Stardust, a fairytale, Neverwhere seems to be entirely of Gaiman’s own invention.

What I can comment thoroughly on, though, is Neil Gaiman’s mastery of the English language. The man can write, there’s scarcely any doubt about that, and what’s more, he seems to have mastered many different styles and genres of writing. Neverwhere felt exactly, to me, like it could’ve been written by Dickens and that is what I adored about it! Several of the scenes reminded me of something from the pages of my favourite Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend, and the way Gaiman constructs and describes his characters is very reminiscent of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. I am particularly thinking of characters like Mr. Croup, Mr. Vandemar and the Marquis de Carabas, who are gritty and dirty and devious enough to have been created by Mr. Dickens himself. I believe that Gaiman was very much aware of how he was emulating Dickens’ style, but I also was amazed to find that the text felt so totally his own; it wasn’t a parody or an imitation at all, but it was certainly an homage to the great works of Victorian past.

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing alike.”

“They walked down some impressive lobby. Then they waited while the footman lit each of the candles on a candelabra, of the sort normally only seen on paperback book covers, where it is traditionally clutched by a young lady in a flowing nightdress who is fleeing from the kind of manor house that only has one light on anywhere, burning in an attic window.”

Neverwhere is worth picking up for the beauty of its language. But what’s even more impressive is that the plot is exciting and the characters are both hilarious and feisty. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, is a bumbling average guy who happens upon this totally outrageous adventure, and as a reader, it is so enjoyable to watch him navigate his way through circumstances that are outlandish and dangerous.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Neverwhere and I will not hesitate to continue plowing through Neil Gaiman’s catalogue. Highly recommend this one!

❥❥❥❥❥(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