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

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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

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

 

Her Who Loves You Best

– An excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë –

It is no easy task to choose a single passage from Jane Eyre to play a part in your wedding ceremony, particularly if you are as huge a fan of the story as I am. I spent a long time searching through the novel, trying to find the perfect passage that would encompass all of my thoughts and feelings on marriage and True Love. I of course wanted something substantial, that would speak to Jane’s complex relationship with Mr. Rochester as well, and although there are so many scenes in the novel that I absolutely adore, I feel that there is only one that truly portrays the complexities of marriage, the love and equality and sacrifice. I chose the following quote and it will be read during my wedding ceremony by one of my dearest friends and bridesmaids…in less than one week’s time!

‘“All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence for ever.”

Again, as he kissed me, painful thoughts darkened his aspect.

“My seared vision! My crippled strength!” he murmured regretfully.

I caressed, in order to soothe him. I knew of what he was thinking, and wanted to speak for him, but dared not. As he turned aside his face a minute, I saw a tear slide from under the sealed eyelid, and trickle down the manly cheek. My heart swelled.

“I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard,” he remarked ere long. “And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?”

“You are no ruin, sir—no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”

Again he smiled: I gave him comfort.

“You speak of friends, Jane?” he asked.

“Yes, of friends,” I answered rather hesitatingly: for I knew I meant more than friends, but could not tell what other word to employ. He helped me.

“Ah! Jane. But I want a wife.”

“Do you, sir?”

“Yes: is it news to you?”

“Of course: you said nothing about it before.”

“Is it unwelcome news?”

“That depends on circumstances, sir—on your choice.”

“Which you shall make for me, Jane. I will abide by your decision.”

“Choose then, sir—her who loves you best.”

“I will at least choose—her I love best. Jane, will you marry me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Truly, Jane?”

“Most truly, sir.”

“Oh! my darling! God bless you and reward you!”

“Mr. Rochester, if ever I did a good deed in my life—if ever I thought a good thought—if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer—if ever I wished a righteous wish,—I am rewarded now. To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth.”

“Because you delight in sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value—to press my lips to what I love—to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.”

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