Love & Gelato ~ #JNGReads

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

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

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

The Good Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lacklustre Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Since You’ve Been Gone ~ #JNGReads

As far as YA novels go, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson is pretty perfect.

It has everything you could ever require from a summer read: a slightly farfetched but exciting and fast-paced plot, a sweet and swoonworthy love interest, a unique and funny cast of secondary characters (shoutout to my fave, Emily’s younger brother, Beckett), and an endearing heroine whose narrative voice is honest and witty and passionate. Oh, and it also has tons of references to the Beatles…so what more could you ask for?

Since You’ve Been Gone follows the summer of Emily, after her best friend Sloane and her parents have disappeared without explanation. Sloane leaves Emily a list of 13 tasks to complete over the summer, and throughout this process, Emily becomes friends with new characters, Frank, Collins and Dawn, and learns a great deal about herself and her confidence. What really surprised me is that the novel is much less about the friendship between Sloane and Emily, and is much more about watching Emily grow up, in a way, and challenge herself to become a stronger person. Other readers have commented on Emily’s journey throughout the novel, and I have to say, it was one of the aspects that I found the most refreshing because Emily is never annoying or juvenile, like a lot of YA heroines are, and is instead totally relatable and realistic. She is adorable, but also deeply flawed and confused, like a lot of 17 year olds are, and it is a wonderful thing to witness her learn some valuable life lessons and come out the other side this remarkable young woman. I could easily see myself becoming friends with Emily, and I felt that I could relate to her sense of feeling lost and having to discover and define herself.

What I liked most about Since You’ve Been Gone, though, is how mature it was, not only in how it tackled those important life lessons I mentioned, but also in how it treated its characters.

Firstly, the characters have to face and understand consequences at many points in the novel, and this was something I really appreciated. All too often, something insanely dramatic will happen in a YA novel, and the characters will still somehow emerge unscathed. I’m thinking of examples like 99 Days by Katie Cotugno and Paper Princess by Erin Watt where these teenage characters can act horribly and treat each other basically like crap, and yet, maybe because they’re “young”, they aren’t at all held responsible. That doesn’t happen in Since You’ve Been Gone and I was relieved about that. Emily makes some questionable decisions over the course of the story, and so does her best friend Sloane, and they are both made accountable and forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions and how they affect others and make them feel. These are flawed and human characters, but they are also not living in a magical world where everything is bright and shiny in the end. Case and point is the status of Emily’s relationships with Dawn and Collins by the end of the novel…there is much that the characters must own up to, and I think Since You’ve Been Gone presents an appropriate model to teenage audiences of what can happen when certain mistakes are made and other people are hurt in the process.

The characters in Since You’ve Been Gone were also wonderfully layered and interesting. There was not a single stereotype in the bunch, and I also felt like I got to know the characters so well, even in so short a time, by getting a glimpse into their family lives and the affect on each of these teenagers that having slightly distracted parents had on them. What was most refreshing for me, however, were the characterizations of Emily and Frank. In most, if not all, the YA novels I’ve read, the guy is the jock and the girl is the brain – this seems to just be an age old plotline that has been recycled far too many times over the years. What I loved about Since You’ve Been Gone is that Emily is the cross country runner with an athletic personality and stamina, and Frank, the main love interest, is an incredibly studious character who is student body president and spends his summers in academic enrichment programs rather than at football or hockey camp. Maybe this isn’t something that most other readers would find significant, but I was immediately impressed by Matson’s decision to take a less traditional and cliché approach to her YA romance, and I also appreciated that there was no instalove whatsoever, and Emily and Frank are great friends before they ever have any romantic feelings for each other. Add to that the laugh out loud moments when a character, like Beckett or Emily’s well-meaning but often bumbling dad, said something particularly hilarious, and you truly have a recipe for a standout YA novel.

There is simply A LOT to love about Since You’ve Been Gone, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and am so glad I picked it up, particularly just as the summer is ramping up. I would highly recommend it as the perfect beach read in every way!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

My Favourite Passages:

“My hair was brown, pin-straight, and long, hitting halfway down my back, but anytime I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested. ‘You have such princess hair,’ she’d said. ‘Anyone can have short hair.’”

“The day after my pizza ride-along, I’d stopped by Captain Pizza to say hi, making sure to glower at Bryan as I did so. I figured he deserved it – not only for what he’d done to Dawn, but also because he’d been wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors.”

“‘Do you not like the Beatles?’ Frank asked, sounding shocked, as we finished our cool-down and started walking back toward my house. ‘Do you also not like sunshine and laughter and puppies?’”

“She was my heart, she was half of me, and nothing, certainly not a few measly hundred miles, was ever going to change that.”

Some Beatles Songs to Listen to While Reading Since You’ve Been Gone:

  • Here Comes The Sun
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • Eight Days A Week
  • Yesterday
  • She Loves You
  • Something
  • We Can Work It Out
  • All You Need Is Love

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Great and Terrible Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Ah, when reality fails to live up to expectations…

This novel was annoying. Was it as annoying as some of the 2-star reads I toiled through last year? No, thankfully. But was it random, all over the place and full of totally pointless characters? Yes, ma’am.

I’ve been wanting to read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray for years now. I think I added it to my Goodreads To-Read List when I first signed up for the site, which was a long time ago. By all accounts, this novel should’ve been a favourite of mine – the setting is Victorian England, the tale is meant to have magical twists and turns, and the heroine is a redhead, which I always associate with feisty, strong and brave characters. This novel really does tick every box that I look for when picking up a young-adult novel.

And yet, it fell utterly flat for me.

I have to admit, my mind wasn’t totally into this novel from the start. This could be because I entered into it hot off the tails of the most recent novel in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Frost and Starlight, which I have been anticipating for almost a year. It could also be because I’ve been exhausted from work this entire week. It is more likely because I’m leaving on my belated honeymoon to Paris and London next week and my mind has been wandering and daydreaming constantly. These could all be reasons why A Great and Terrible Beauty didn’t wow me like I thought it would.

However, if a book is good enough, nothing should get in its way. If a book is captivating and intriguing enough, I can pick it up after a long and busy day and be immediately swept up in it, as if I never put it down. If a plot is compelling enough, I won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough, even if my arms are tired from a grueling workout or my eyes are burning from hours staring at a computer screen. And, if characters are engaging enough, they will become dear friends. None of the characters from A Great and Terrible Beauty intrigued me, and the plot was so jumbled and random that it wasn’t able to redeem the novel for me whatsoever.

Okay, hang on a minute here, I feel like this little review is getting as jumbled as the novel. How to organize my thoughts better? What about a list of the things that made no sense to me and that I am still flummoxed by? Good plan!

1) Carolina – Who is this girl and why is she relevant? I still have no idea. Is she Mother Elena’s daughter? Was I supposed to be shocked by that? I didn’t even care, TBH.

2) Miss Moore – I really thought she’d somehow be involved in all the stuff with The Order and the realms and then she wasn’t and was just some basic character who served no purpose and wasn’t even in the novel enough to be this feminist, independent female character. Major potential that was unexplored if you ask me.

3) Mary Dowd’s Diary – 100% of the diary entries included in the novel seemed pointless to me and served only to muddle the plot and didn’t actually add any suspense or thrill, in my opinion. Could’ve done without the diary honestly.

4) Circe – I have no words for how confusing this character is as a “villain”, mainly because she isn’t even present in the novel and I don’t have any grasp of what exactly she is or is after.

5) Gemma’s Brother – What is this guy’s name again? I can’t even remember…which just proves how pointless his inclusion in the novel was, even though it was brief. Wasted time and space on the page, if you ask me.

6) Mrs. Nightwing – Could’ve been cool. Could’ve been an unexpected villain OR an unexpected aid to the main characters. Was none of these things. Not cool.

7) Brigid – See comments above.

8) The Order/The Realms – WTF was even happening in the realms and what even is The Order? Like was it just comprised of Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Whatever? Or has The Order been around for a long time? Did I miss a huge explanation here? Possible.

9) Mr. Bumble – Again, major potential left unexplored BECAUSE this novel could’ve had way more commentary about what it means to be a woman in the Victorian era EXCEPT that it only alludes to these things and then flits off into fairyland and then nothing much happens.

10) Ann – The epitome of unexplored potential. She could’ve been the raddest female character if she only had a bit more backbone and fight to her. And okay, maybe the author wanted to go the route of having her be self-conscious about her lack of beauty, etc. BUT what about exploring this a bit further rather than just referencing the fact that she tries to physically hurt herself and then shying away from this subject matter?

11) Gemma – Not quite as annoying as my two least favourite characters of all time, Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper and Anna from Anna and the French Kiss (I know, you all have your pitchforks at the ready, I can sense it), but Gemma has to be one of the most insipid and idiotic characters I have ever encountered. If someone says, Do NOT take this power with you into the real world…DON’T DO IT. DO NOT. Those instructions were very clear. Gemma just seems like a selfish, spoiled brat right from page 1, and this only gets worse when she teams up with equally annoying and vapid characters like Felicity and Pippa. Mean Girls-esque cliques in a Victorian-inspired novel? NOT. A. FAN.

12) Kartik – Is this person a viable love interest for anyone in this story? Does this person have a point in this novel? No to both.

I was going to give this book a 3-star rating, to be generous, but boy, did that list ever work wonders and clarify things for me. This novel was a bore, but also super confusing and left me with more questions than answers. Not impressed, to say the least.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

✦ Answered Dreams ✦ ~ A Court of Frost and Starlight

☆ Nothing much happened in this novel…and yet, it meant everything to me. ☆

I’m the type of reader who fantasizes about characters, long after I’ve turned the final page of a novel. I’ll find myself on the subway thinking about what a fictitious couple might be up to at that exact moment. I’ll be standing in my kitchen, making lunch or dinner, and I’ll find myself considering what a fictional character would be making for his or her own dinner. And now that I’m married, I’ve found myself speculating about the married/domestic lives of characters like Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire…and Feyre and Rhysand…beyond the scenes of the books they are a part of.

☆ I love imagining and envisioning the spaces in between a novel, the quiet moments that are omitted from or would follow it. ☆

And for that reason, A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas was my ideal sort of book. As I said, nothing very substantial happens in it…no plot twists or moments of heart-wrenching anxiety. Following the drama of A Court of Wings and Ruin, though, I don’t think we really needed anything too heart-pounding. Instead what we get is what I felt I needed most: the everyday, the routine. We see Feyre and Rhys, as well as the cast of the Night Court, going about their lives and picking up the pieces after the war. The novel, or novella, whatever you want to call it, is comprised of a bunch of little scenes of this everyday life, and I found it adorable and touching in equal measure. It gave me a glimpse into scenes I had tried to imagine myself: Feyre and Rhys busy at work (something my husband and I can really relate to, having started new, dream jobs ourselves recently), Mor and Cassian retreating to places of solitude to ease their anxieties, and Amren engaging in an unexpected romance. There was nothing earth-shattering about this story, sure, and yet somehow it felt significant, felt like catching up with a friend after a long time apart. And there are, of course, a few surprises, but even these were treated with subtlety. This book felt intimate and human, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I could go on with more examples of lovely moments in the story or provide some of my favourite quotes, but since the story is so short, I hesitate to do that. That would take the fun and wonder out of experiencing it as a reader…so let me just say that if you are a fan of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, this is a must read.

☆☆☆☆☆ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

By Your Side ~ #JNGReads

“I knew it was the extreme amount of stress I’d been under lately. Something had to give. I needed an outlet.

Under no circumstances should it have taken me almost a week to read a 350 page young adult book. But, I had an unexpectedly rough week, which is fitting for this reading experience in so many ways.

By Your Side by Kasie West is a novel about a teenage girl, Autumn, who gets stuck in a library over a long weekend with a misunderstood guy from her school, Dax. A common criticism of this novel that I’ve come across is that the setting of the library seems totally inconsequential, as neither of the characters actually read when they’re trapped in there, and that the portion of the novel when Autumn and Dax are trapped in the library is too short. These two things are true. However, they did not affect my rating of this novel whatsoever, and I will explain why.

“Just talking about rules right now was relaxing me. Structure sometimes helped me feel safe.”

By Your Side was unlike anything I expected from reading the synopsis, and yet, in so many ways, it surpassed my expectations. This is all down to the fact that Autumn suffers from anxiety.

I had an anxiety attack this morning. There’s a long story behind it, related to the long week I had, but to make that story short, I found myself crying in bed this morning as I thought about all the obligations (mostly social) ahead of me this weekend. I eventually calmed myself down (I’ve been told that anxiety attacks are not supposed to last for more than 20-minutes, even though they often seem to go on for an eternity), and when I did, I was able to get back into reading By Your Side right at a spot in the book when Autumn is also coming to terms with her anxiety. Autumn becomes easily overwhelmed when in certain social situations with her friends, and she slowly learns, through the course of the novel and with the help of her new friend/love interest Dax, that saying No is okay and important, particularly when she is being pushed beyond her limits.

“‘Have you ever felt trapped?’

I gave a single laugh. ‘Yes. I have anxiety.’”

Saying No is something I wish I was better at…but I’m working on it. I have felt exactly what Autumn has, that urge to give into people, to always say Yes to them even if you feel yourself starting to break. What I appreciated about West’s treatment of anxiety was that she focused on the sense of responsibility some people with anxiety feel, this burden of not wanting to disappoint other people or let them down. West focuses much of her portrayal of anxiety on Autumn’s family members and Dax reminding her that she has to keep herself healthy, that it is okay for her to admit her limitations, step back, and take some time alone to focus on her mental well-being. I don’t think this sort of thing is talked about enough in society, even with the current move toward focusing on anxiety disorders and mental illness. I believe that many people who don’t suffer from anxiety would find it hard to wrap their mind around why a person may feel uncomfortable about going to a particular social engagement, or why the thought of doing a certain social thing would bring them to tears. But, I have been there, most recently this morning, and I can say with conviction that for individuals who suffer from certain types of anxiety, there is no rhyme or reason; all we know is that some things, on some days, by no logic or rule, are simply beyond our power.

“‘Thanks for letting me stay home this week.’

‘Of course. You need to take care of yourself.’

‘I know. That’s why I’m staying home from the basketball game tonight too. Just the thought of it makes me cringe.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with that.’”

Autumn eventually gets to the point where she can say No to her friends, based on how she is feeling and by gaging her own mental health, and she is lucky in the sense that her friends are supportive of her and open to learning about her anxiety disorder. Believe me, not everyone in the world is that understanding. Having said that, I personally appreciated that West emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself, of doing what is right for you. Anxiety is just as real as any physical illness, and I agree with West that it has to be treated as such: sometimes, a person with anxiety simply isn’t feeling well enough to do something, and that feeling should be viewed as just as valid as if someone couldn’t make it out because of a stomach flu or throat infection. We all have our boundaries and barriers, and not every day is going to be an anxiety-filled one…but the ones that are need to be taken slow and easy, and Autumn is conscious of that towards the end of her story.

Is By Your Side the best young adult novel I’ve ever read? Probably not. Don’t get me wrong, it would make an adorable, light-hearted move and I really liked Autumn and Dax and their cute banter. That, I would only give 3 stars for though…for West’s portrayal of anxiety, however, I’ll up my rating a touch.

I would encourage any teenager who suffers from anxiety to pick up this book, because not only is it enjoyable, it will also remind you that what you’re feeling is perfectly valid and should be respected.

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Don’t Touch ~ #JNGReads

I got Don’t Touch at Chapters 3 days ago, on sale for $1.50. That is both a travesty and a blessing.

It is a travesty because Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson is an excellent young-adult novel and it is worth much more than $1.50. So much more.

It is a blessing because if the book wasn’t on sale for $1.50, I never would’ve spotted it and decided to pick it up. And, I am lucky to have had the chance to read it.

Don’t Touch is a complex, intricate and deeply moving story about a high school student and aspiring actress, Caddie, who suffers from severe anxiety and OCD. Caddie’s anxiety is so all-consuming that she has convinced herself, after her parents’ separation, that she cannot touch anyone without dire consequences. Caddie purchases gloves, she wears long sleeves and pants even in the oppressive heat of summer, and when she develops a crush on her classmate Peter and is cast as Ophelia in her school’s production of Hamlet opposite Peter in the title role, she does everything within her power to avoid getting close to him. Caddie is the narrator of Don’t Touch, and so the reader is able to develop a very intimate relationship with her, hearing her innermost fears and turmoil at wanting to engage with Peter and her other friends, but not feeling as though she is able to.

There were moments in Don’t Touch that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t suffer from severe OCD, but I have friends who do, and I myself suffer from anxiety. I am learning recently that my struggle with anxiety (which began at the start of high school) is so much less severe and difficult than what so many of my peers have to endure on a daily basis, but I do believe that mental health is all relative, and my anxiety sometimes feels like the most horrible thing in the world, at least to me. I luckily have never been in Caddie’s position where I fear touching others, but I do understand the frustration that comes from having this one fear playing over and over in your brain, no matter how hard to try to get it to stop or how logical you try to be. Anxiety isn’t really logical at all, or at least it isn’t in my experience, and I was deeply touched by Caddie’s narration of her inability to calm herself down even when she knows her anxieties are nonsensical, silly and impossible.

Rachel M. Wilson writes about anxiety well, with heart and respect. She mentions in her Author’s Note that she herself suffers from OCD, and that is clear in her careful treatment of mental health struggles that she is familiar with them. I only wish her book got more hype because I believe it is the exact sort of text that teenagers need to read. If I had read something like this book in high school, it may have helped me comprehend my anxieties and understand that they are not as uncommon or embarrassing as I originally thought. I don’t mean to say that a book like Don’t Touch would’ve cured me, but it would’ve made me feel a bit more “normal”…whatever that even means.

Caddie is a strong character, despite her anxieties, and what is most profound is the message that ailments like anxiety or OCD do NOT make a person weak, but rather they can make them impressively strong. Caddie goes through a lot and she doesn’t always come out on top of her anxiety, but in the end, she has developed methods to cope with it and she is able to touch people and enjoy this proximity. She comes a long way, but what is most special and poignant about her progress is that she seeks help, from her mother, from her friends, and from a trained professional. She eventually realizes that power comes from talking about her anxieties, from taking the power away from them, and she becomes vocal and unselfconscious in her discussion of what is plaguing her. This was beautiful to see and an incredible message for anyone who suffers from anxiety or OCD to be left with: that speaking about it, owning up to it and in a way embracing it, is the first step toward wellness.

“Talking about fear takes its power away.”

I would highly recommend Don’t Touch to anyone and everyone because it truly blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to find it so sharp and touching, but it was, and I think it is worthy of a lot more attention. Spend $1.50 on it, spend $15.00, spend $50.00…but whatever you do, pick up this book!

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

When It’s Real ~ #JNGReads

“‘You’re the one person in my life who wants nothing but me and it’s terrifying and awesome at the same time. Don’t ever leave me. I love you.  You’re my heart.’”

When It’s Real by Erin Watt is an adorable novel, and I’m not even a little bit ashamed by the number of stars I’m giving it. I will admit that it took me a little while to get into When It’s Real, and it wasn’t a totally addictive read right from the start, but once I did get into the meat of it, I found I couldn’t put it down. It genuinely made me smile while reading.

This feeling has everything to do with the characters and how cute and relatable I found them to be…which is saying a lot, considering the male lead is a pop star. Let’s be honest with ourselves, the plot of When It’s Real – a pop star hiring a “normal” girl to pose as his girlfriend to mend his image – is one we’ve seen countless times before. I am a fan of romance novels that have something to do with the creative arts, whether it’s tattooing (as in the case of the Sin and Needles series by Karina Halle), book publishing (as in the case of my all-time favourite, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne) or, as in this case, the music industry. But, I will say that the plot and structure of When It’s Real, with its alternating narration that allowed both the female lead, Vaughn Bennett, and the male lead, Oakley Ford, to have their say, was nothing special or out of this world. Vaughn and Oak, though, were. Particularly Oak, who comes across as sweet and kind and vulnerable right from the first chapter. I liked Vaughn a lot as the typical, seventeen-year-old “girl next door” character because her relationship with her older sister and younger twin brothers was extremely endearing and her insecurities about her future were realistic and human. Oak, however, was the real star of the novel for me because he is a surprisingly multi-faceted character, a hugely successful recording artist who secretly harbours just has much fear and insecurity as Vaughn. I appreciated that Oak wasn’t this one dimensional male lead in the sense that he wasn’t a cocky asshole who just wanted to manipulate and deflower Vaughn – he was a strong character in his own right, with a lot of heart and with a soft side that made him the perfect match for Vaughn. He not only uses his confidence to bring Vaughn out of his shell, he also sympathizes with her anxieties about relationships and getting close to someone, and so he never rushes, uses or manipulates her. This is refreshing to see in a romance novel because all too often we, as readers, are presented with these men in privileged positions (think Christian Grey, as an example) who do fall in love, no doubt, but who never fully seem to understand their female counterparts or respect their decisions, hesitancies and complexities. Unlike all these overly pushy and possessive romantic heroes, Oak takes the time to unpack why Vaughn is hesitant to get close to him, both emotionally and physically, and he gives her the time she needs to develop a sense of comfort with him and a confidence of her own. Obviously, this is classified as a young adult novel so there wasn’t too much digging into the psychologies of Vaughn and Oak (more on this in a moment), but I generally felt that Oak was a better male lead than most I’ve encountered in romance novels in the past. I also found his dialogue to be super flirty and cute, and it gave me this tingly feeling because the things he said often reminded me of things I’ve heard come out of my husband’s mouth. I really think Erin Watt nailed the male voice in this particular story for that reasons.

That all being said, my major qualm with When It’s Real was the fact that it didn’t seem to distribute its time properly, in terms of plot. The novel is about 400 pages which I think is a good length. Unfortunately, most of those pages are taken up by Vaughn being in a relationship with her high school boyfriend and her and Oak feeling antagonistic toward each other. I’m all for hate-to-love relationships, as they are some of my favourite, but I did feel that too much of the plot was spent establishing a connection between Vaughn and Oak and not delving into their relationship enough. There aren’t many steamy or sexy scenes at all, and I don’t mean to say that a YA romance novel should necessarily have a ton of these, but it just sort of felt anti-climactic to me because we are waiting for Vaughn and Oak to get together and it is supposed to be this huge moment for Vaughn (one that she’s been waiting for and thinking about for a long time), and then it’s sort of rushed and the plot moves on very quickly. The “conflict” or, I should say, misunderstanding at the end of the novel is also very rushed and seems to be there just for the sake of it. Instead of having a red herring like this, though, I would’ve preferred to get more of Vaughn and Oak together because there simply didn’t seem to be enough of that throughout the novel. There are also so many unresolved issues, such as Vaughn’s decisions for her future, and while I understand that the whole point of the novel is that Vaughn should get to find out what her passion is, in her own time, I think the story would have had a more powerful message if she was on her way to finding that passion towards the end. Instead, she still seems mostly directionless.

Overall, I would recommend When It’s Real, particularly for teenagers in grade 11 or 12. As I said, there wasn’t anything too racy or inappropriate, and I think the fun, cute and flirty romance is ideal for young adults just wrapping up high school and looking for a light beachy read. When It’s Real is seriously the perfect story to read over summer vacation!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Everything, Everything ~ #JNGReads

Ah, another book finished that is controversial and that I feel I have no business reviewing…excellent!

Why do I continue to do this to myself? ARGH!

SPOILER ALERT!!! I feel that it is impossible for me to talk about this book without revealing the ending. You have been warned!

Before I begin properly reviewing Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, I have to let you all in on a little secret… I LIKE spoilers. I know, I know, this is an extremely rare trait, but I have always, from a very young age, been okay with and even eager to learn spoilers about books, movies and television shows. Both my brother and I have this weird habit of reading the last sentence of a novel before starting it. Both my dad and I were unbothered by the fact that we knew most of what was going to happen in Game of Thrones before watching it (including, *shock*, who would die). And, when I started to read reviews of Everything, Everything before picking it up to read myself and learned that there was some controversy surrounding the ending, I clicked on those SPOILER links on Goodreads without hesitation.

So, with that being said, I knew before I even turned to page one of Everything, Everything that the main character, Madeline Whittier, is deceived by her doctor mother throughout the first 18 years of her life into believing that she suffers from SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency), a disease that means she is unable to leave her home. Ever. Basically, to simplify this 300 page novel in a few sentences: 18 year old Maddy has been raised to believe she can never leave her house and that the very air outside is dangerous to her, and this is due to the fact that her doctor mother never recovered from the trauma of losing her husband and son (Maddy’s father and brother) in a tragic car accident and was so afraid to also lose Maddy that she convinced herself that Maddy was ill and could never be let out of the house. Of course, in proper YA novel fashion, a gorgeous and intriguing boy, Olly, moves next door to Maddy when the novel starts, they fall in love, and this causes her to risk going outside, and, even more risky, on a trip to Hawaii, which sets in motion Maddy’s discovery that she is not and never has been sick.

What the ****? Am I right in thinking that this is one of the weirdest plots in existence? Who’s with me on this? Yes, it’s true that I went into the novel knowing that Maddy wasn’t even sick, and so this made it a lot more frustrating and upsetting to read all about her struggles with this disease that I knew she didn’t even have. But rather than ruining my reading of Everything, Everything, I think the fact that I knew what was going to happen in the end and what was really going on all along made my reading experience better. I had this disgust and annoyance in my heart for Maddy’s mother right from the start, and so I was able to view their interactions with this secret knowledge that made me root for Maddy even harder. It also made me despise Dr. Whittier, but more than that, it allowed me to really dissect the aspects of the novel that I might’ve glossed over by the time I reached the shocking conclusion. For example, I think the fact that I knew that Maddy wasn’t sick at all made the whole thing seem even more far-fetched and unrealistic to me. Yes, Maddy’s mother is a doctor, but Maddy also has a nurse, Carla, who attends to her every day and who eventually admits that she often found herself thinking that nothing was wrong with Maddy at all. Okay, so why didn’t she say anything or question anything? Why didn’t she demand to see the test results from Maddy’s initial diagnosis? You mean to tell me that a nurse would accept a position caring for a teenager with such a rare and grave illness and not want to see her entire file beforehand, make note of every single procedure she has ever had done? If Carla had done this, she would have found, just as Maddy does in the end, that every immunologist Maddy saw as a child found ZERO evidence that she suffered from SCID. It just seems mind-boggling to me that Maddy’s mother can get away with such an elaborate lie, even if she is a doctor. Doctors are still accountable to larger boards and hospitals and colleagues, etc. so how did NO ONE think to look into whether or not Maddy’s medical records backed up her mother’s claims? It was just so bizarre to me and I’m glad I knew about the ending from the start because, as I said, it made me more critical of Carla’s acceptance of everything Dr. Whittier said and had her do.

Furthermore, the fact that Maddy ends up not being ill with SCID is very offensive. This is where it gets tricky for me to review this book and where I feel totally unqualified…I don’t suffer from SCID, I don’t know anyone who does, and I don’t know very much about it. But, I have a feeling that those who do suffer from it would not appreciate how Yoon exploits a very severe condition and then does a complete 180 at the end, almost declaring to the reader, “See, she was never sick at all, so she can live happily ever after!” I’m all for happy endings and fairytales, but this was way too much for me and was actually pretty despicable. Do I love it that Jane Eyre ended up “coincidentally” living with her cousins after she left Thornfield Hall? Yes, I do. Do I like the ending that has Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy marry even though we thought all throughout the novel that they hated each other? Of course! BUT, do I appreciate the fact that Yoon treated a serious illness with such nonchalance that she forces her character to endure it and then decides, Never mind, that was a big joke because Maddy has to end up with the boy and that can’t happen if she’s really sick? No. Just…no. That’s simply uncalled for and is a huge cop out. Is Yoon not a talented enough author to treat this illness with respect? Can she not come up with a way to make her character fulfilled and happy without having her end up with the boy? There are people who actually live with SCID and diseases like it and just because they do, does NOT mean their lives don’t have value and that they can’t have love and happiness and excitement in them. Yoon seems to think they can’t, though, and that ****ing bothered me! Again, I repeat that I have no real right to be angry about this because I don’t suffer from SCID or have any close friends or family members who do…HOWEVER, cancer is hugely prominent in my family and I’m trying to imagine how I would feel if I read an entire book about a cancer patient that ended with the author basically saying, “SURPRISE, she isn’t sick at all and will get to live a long and glorious life with her high school sweetheart!” Not pleased. That’s how I would feel.

Having said all this, I really did like Maddy and Olly and I thought the novel was well written, which makes me even madder. The style is very unique with prose blocks interspersed with Maddy’s diary entries, her drawings, her IM conversations with Olly. It almost read like a scrapbook and I genuinely loved that. Maddy and Olly were also super cute in their interactions and their voices were actually distinct and unique and their flirting was adorable. I finished the entire book in less than 24 hours, for godsake, because it was so readable and flowed so well… So, I’m left like, Whyyy? This book had SO MUCH potential and I would’ve loved it, probably even given it 5 stars, if it wasn’t for the totally GARBAGE ending! Why would Yoon do this? She had a great, creative and interesting book on her hands and then she just…threw it all away for no apparent reason. We, as readers, can handle a bit of heartache, we can handle a character that has to face illness and difficulty and doesn’t get this miraculous ending. We can handle the grit, and it felt almost like my intelligence was being insulted when Everything, Everything turned what could’ve been a profound message about the value of life and the nature of happiness into an absolutely ridiculous ending.

What more can I say? This novel was totally absurd and I can’t even think of how to rate it because I wished it ended at like the 250 page mark because then I would’ve loved it.

Damn, I’m just going to give it an exact average rating and be done with it, and go angrily fume in a corner now.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Cruel Prince ~ #JNReads

Let me start by saying that Holly Black’s novel The Cruel Prince is not my favourite fantasy novel, and although I will be comparing it to some of my favourites and indicating similarities between them, this particular novel did not achieve “Favourite” (yes, with a capital F) status for me. That being said, I do feel compelled, after finishing it, to pick up some more of Holly Black’s books, so that is certainly a testament to the fact that her work intrigued me quite a bit.

The Cruel Prince felt, to me, very similar to Sarah J. Maas’ novel A Court of Thorns and Roses. Now, this is where my caveat above comes in: the ACOTAR series is one of my all-time favourites, and so while The Cruel Prince had a comparable vibe to the first novel in that series, it certainly didn’t affect me as viscerally or vehemently. A Court of Thorns and Roses seriously blew me away, especially by the end, and The Cruel Prince sadly did not. However, as I said, the vibe of the two novels felt nearly the same in that both start slow, building up the world and the characters with an intense amount of detail, and then pick up around the 3/4 point when the main action commences. It’s important for those who are considering reading The Cruel Prince to know this about the novel…when you start it, you may feel bogged down by all the descriptions and “set up” and by the fact that the narrator and main character, Jude, seems to describe a lot of things at length but not actually do very much. Rest assured, once you hit the halfway point of the novel, the plot picks up significantly, and once you get to about 300 pages in, you’ll start to feel a lot more anxious for the characters and a lot more immersed in the suspense and intrigue. This was my experience anyway, and I would say that The Cruel Prince is a novel you have to be in for the long haul. Despite the fact that it’s only just over 350 pages, it might take you some time to read it because of all the description, but just sit with it and keep going because by the end, you’ll be glad you did!

With all that said, I was never truly hooked by The Cruel Prince, even when I got to the twists and turns of the ending. For some reason, I could never fully warm up to Jude, which is not to say that I hated her or anything as extreme as that, but I also just couldn’t bring myself to love her or to care that much about her. Her backstory is very interesting and there is some treatment of PTSD and anxiety that I found subtle, interesting and realistic, but again, I just didn’t feel like Jude had enough going for her for me to view her as a fictional friend. Moreover, Cardan was definitely a fascinating character and he grew into a pretty swoon-worthy hero toward the conclusion, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough of him in the novel. I mean, it is named for him after all, and yet there wasn’t all that much interaction between him and Jude. Yes, she spends a lot of time thinking about him and fearing him, but they don’t talk very often and until the final hundred pages of the novel, there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever. I get that romance is not all a novel needs to be about, especially one in the fantasy genre, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a relationship between Jude and Cardan merely because there is so much hype about them both. I don’t know, I guess the “romance” of the novel wasn’t what I was expecting…I wanted something more passionate and grittier, and although Black approaches that sort of relationship toward the end, I don’t think there was enough heat and heart-pounding intensity throughout the story to make me all that interested in Jude and Cardan together.

I also struggled a little bit with Black’s writing style in that I felt it to be disjointed at times. I found myself becoming confused on several occasions, trying to keep the characters straight and trying to work out how each of their stories interconnect. For example, Jude spends a lot of time ruminating on the wrongful death of a character named Liriope, but it took me a really long time to figure out why she was important and how her presence in the novel contributed to the plot whatsoever. Eventually it all sort of becomes clear, but when the concept of Liriope is first introduced, it seems somewhat pointless and like a detail that the reader can ignore, so I don’t know that Black did a good enough job planting clues for her audience or linking the beginning of the novel up with the conclusion. The court structure of Black’s world is also kind of complicated in terms of succession and how many different courts there are and how each of them function in tandem. I found myself becoming really interested in places like the Unseelie Court, as an example, but then Black never provided any description about them. She alluded many times to practices and structures outside of the novel, within the land of Faerie, but she then never went back and touched on them, and so I found myself trying to put threads together that weren’t substantial enough. I hear that this book is going to become a series, so I’m assuming Black will delve further into these details in the future, but I found that the constant mention of them within The Cruel Prince took my attention away from the main plot and action in a manner that was at times very distracting.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this book. Like I said, it isn’t a Favourite of mine, and I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more, but I did have a pleasant time reading it and I would definitely continue with the series. I’m intrigued enough to follow through with these characters, even if I won’t necessarily rush out to buy the second book as soon as it’s released.

My Favourite Quotes from The Cruel Prince

Like I said, there are some particularly hard-hitting moments that should have their time to shine amidst my critiques…

✦ JUDE ✦

“I cannot seem to contort myself back into the shape of a dutiful child.

I am coming unraveled. I am coming undone.

“I seem to have passed some kind of threshold. Before, I never knew how far I would go. Now I believe I have the answer. I will go as far as there is to go.

I will go way too far.

✦ CARDAN ✦

“‘Jude Duarte, daughter of clay, I swear myself into your service. I will act as your hand. I will act as your shield. I will act in accordance with your will. Let it be so for one year and one day…and not for one minute more.’”

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

An Enchantment of Ravens ~ #JNGReads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart