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

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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

The Ambitious, But Not Impossible Reading Plan…

Hello again dear Readers!

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

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

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

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

The Books I Want To Finish Before January:

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

What’s The Buzz? The Most Underrated Books (…in my opinion!)

Recently, I was on Goodreads, about to add a fellow reader with similar bookish interests to mine as a friend when I was bombarded by his Friend Request Question. I think these questions are a lot of fun (I set one for my profile too) because it gives you a chance to immediately get to know the person you’re becoming friends with, and gain some insight into their reading habits and preferences. I also enjoy answering these questions because they get me thinking about my own love of books and different genres that I’ve encountered.

This particular Goodreads user’s question was very challenging, though! It asked:

What underrated book would you recommend?

For the life of me, I could not think of an underrated book to recommend, which struck me as really peculiar! I don’t think my reading preferences are all that cliché or common, and while I definitely enjoy checking out buzzworthy books, I also like to pick up novels that are more obscure and not as mainstream. Nothing came to mind when I was faced with this question, however, and so I decided to dig into my Favourites Shelf to garner some ideas…and in so doing, I discovered a bunch of underrated or unappreciated (in my opinion!) novels that I thought I should be listing and recommending here on my blog as well. I was reminded of a bunch of stories I read that I haven’t seen many other people picking up, and it struck me as a darn shame! So, with that said, here is my list of a few underrated or less popular books that I ADORED and recommend to anyone who’s looking for something new and unexpectedly awesome to read…

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, to be perfectly honest, but one book that totally blew me away was Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This could have a lot to do with the fact that my fiancé was born in Iran, but I think it has more to do with Nafisi’s very unique approach to non-fiction: she describes her struggles, and those of many women living in Iran, through the lens of various literary works she secretly read during her time living in the Middle East. It was absolutely fascinating to rediscover novels I had read and enjoyed through the eyes of a woman living in a much less liberal and open-minded society, and I learned a great deal about Persian culture and the troubled Iranian government through the guise of literature.

Acclaimed Theatre

There is no play out there that has touched me as much as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Yes, I know this play is extremely popular and critically acclaimed, but I would say that it is underrated because I just don’t know of many readers who rush to pick up theatre. I have never been more moved by a story than I was by Angels in America though, and it touches on such a variety of topics like religion and sexuality and politics, that there is truly something in it for everyone! There are so many great lessons to be learned from this text and I am convinced that anyone who picks it up and delves into it becomes a better person for it!

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

There’s no doubt that Alice Munro is the ultimate short story writer, and she is undoubtedly my favourite. However, I am equally a fan of fellow Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant, and her collections Montreal Stories and Varieties of Exile are forever favourites of mine. Gallant’s style is very similar to Munro’s in that she focuses on the ordinary and mundane, but highlights the extraordinary and interesting about it. She takes the most everyday activities and characters, such as a woman commuting to work on the subway, and infuses them with a special quality that immediately connects the reader to them. Plus, her use of language is gorgeous and very similar to Munro’s, so if you are a fan of Alice Munro, I guarantee you will love Gallant’s short fiction as well.

Poetry from the Distant Past

Poetry is probably the literary genre I have the least amount of experience with, and most of my reading of poetry has been for literature courses rather than for pleasure. Having said that, I have encountered some truly EPIC poems in my day (I’m think of a certain Paradise Lost, as an example) and one of my favourite, lesser appreciated long poems is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is the quintessential medieval tale, with references to King Arthur and his valiant Knights of the Round Table, and although I had to study it for a class, I absolutely fell in love with the tale and with the adventure and, of course, with chivalrous Sir Gawain. This is definitely a fun one and it is so easy to get swept up into the tale!

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

Why not throw a picture book on this list? Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a story I grew up having read to me and is probably the first book I ever encountered in my life. It is touching and moving and lovely, and I swear, everyone needs to read it to their kids. It’s a classic, in my opinion!

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, EVERYONE should read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It treats the same subject matter as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, to me, is a far superior novel. It is deep and engrossing, and the main character Sam Kingston is easily relatable but also hopelessly flawed. I can’t say enough good things about this novel, and the film adaptation (starring Zoey Deutch) is equally good! If you only pick up one book from this list, make it this one!

Heartbreaking Romance

If I say too much about The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris, I will cry. It is a tearjerker in every sense of the word, but it is also a uniquely structured and stylized romance. The way it is written makes it truly stand out (by focusing on telling the stories of different first kisses between the two main characters), and I have it on my list of favourite novels of all time…considering that I’m a big rom-com reader, this should tell you something, since it clearly stands out!

Midnight Mystery

Although The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is technically a Victorian novel, it is the ultimate mystery that I think rivals stories told my Agatha Christie and more contemporary mystery writers. It is a story that instantly draws the reader in, with its family politics, deceptions and unreliable narrators, and there are so many different narratives that it never gets boring. The reader is swept up in a mystery that is genuinely difficult to solve, what with all the competing theories swirling around between the many characters, and it is a truly fun and suspenseful ride. I adore this novel and I’ve read it several times…knowing the end result doesn’t even phase me because the ride is the best part!

Haunting Historical Fiction

I’m going to label The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson a historical fiction novel, although it also contains fantastical elements and is a contemporary novel, so really it fits into three categories. Whatever genre it is, it is without doubt one of the best novels I have EVER read, and this is all down to the remarkable narrator. He’s so flawed, complex and complicated, at once detestable and so loveable, and I was so moved by this novel that it has left a permanent mark on my heart. It’s an emotional and troubling story, but it is so worth the read because it will truly blow you away! HIGHLY recommend this one!

Crazy Classic

Jude the Obscure is one messed up novel…but what else do you expect from an author like Thomas Hardy? I have a lot of favourite Victorian novels, and there are other novels by Hardy that I prefer, but Jude the Obscure is totally underrated in that barely anyone reads it, as far as I know. Readers are more inclined to pick up Tess of the D’Ubervilles (and with good reason, of course), but they forget about Jude entirely even though it seems to be Hardy’s darkest novel. Honestly, I can’t even explain some of the crazy stuff that happens in this book, but it is just so dark and gothic and really worth picking up if you’re into classics.

And finally…

Oh Canada!

Being the extremely proud Canadian I am, I had to include an underrated Canadian novel on this list, and I chose The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables, and I have huge respect for that story, but in my opinion, The Blue Castle is just better. It is more adult and sophisticated, and it also features this indomitable and fierce female character, Valancy Stirling (what a great name, eh?), who I instantly fell in love with! She actually became a role model for me and I admit that I think about her often when I’m in social or professional situations that require me to have a bit more backbone than usual. I don’t think many readers know about this novel and that is a serious shame because it is at once hilarious and profound and entertaining. And, talk about girl power, because Valancy knows how to hold her own, no matter who she is up against…I LOVE IT!

Let me know in the comments below if you plan to pick up one of these underrated novels…or if you already have, let me know what you thought and if you too would recommend it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart