Crooked Kingdom ~ #JNGReads

“a black glass boy of deadly edges.”

So this is what all the hype was about.

I have to be honest right from the start: when I read the Grisha Trilogy, I was sort of wondering what all the fuss was about.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three novels in the series well enough, but at the end of my reading experience and recently, several months after finishing the series, I found myself thinking that it wasn’t at all what it was hyped up to be.  I liked Leigh Bardugo’s creative world building and interesting characters (shout out to The Darkling and Nikolai/Sturmhond in particular) a lot, but I just couldn’t fully understand why everyone on Goodreads was obsessed with Bardugo’s writing.  I found myself not really getting it.

That is until I read Six of Crows which absolutely blew me away.  Having now finished reading the second novel in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom, I can finally say that I truly understand Bardugo’s genius and I am absolutely eager to pick up anything and everything she has written and will write in the future.  The Six of Crows duology is masterfully written and articulated: the pacing is absolute perfection, blending a suspenseful plot with intense moments of quiet, emotional reflection within each character; the world is vast and immense, and draws on elements of the Grisha trilogy to create a realistic setting and environment that is all encompassing and broad; and the characters…well, they’re impossible to describe and equally impossible to forget.  I wrote last weekend about my appreciation for the female protagonists Nina and Inej who I believe are groundbreaking in their representation, and I was inspired even further by their friendship and teamwork in Crooked Kingdom – they truly reminded me of myself and my dear best friend, CV, boosting each other up and growing each other’s confidence at every turn.  All of the characters are fascinating, though, from Wylan, the quiet and innocent scientist, to Jesper, the rambunctious and daring gambler (and, Wylan and Jesper’s relationship was remarkable and touching as well).  There really is nothing that could’ve been made better or improved in the Six of Crows duology, and it is, to me, an utter masterpiece of literature.  Despite the fact that it is a fantasy series branded as young adult lit., it is edgy, dark, heart wrenching and profoundly mature.  This is the sort of young adult literature that needs to be written more often – we don’t need to pander to or belittle young adults, we need to provide them with stories that are as diverse and thought provoking and complex as they are.  Leigh Bardugo does this artfully.

And, in truth, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feel like very adult novels, particularly in some of the darker themes they investigate.  One of these is the treatment of PTSD and anxiety, which is what touched me most profoundly when reading Crooked Kingdom.  It all comes down to the astonishing characterization of Kaz Brekker, arguably the main character of the duology.  Kaz is a character that I identified with very strongly (never mind the fact that every “Which Six of Crows character are you?” quiz I took yielded the result KAZ).  Kaz suffers from anxiety in a way that is very complicated and easy to leave unrecognized.  He is a strong and confident character, a born leader whose mind is so sharp that he always has a number of plans, and multiple backup plans, in the works.  He is one of the most capable characters I have ever encountered.  But, at the same time, Kaz is deeply flawed and troubled, having survived the traumatic experience of watching his brother die from illness when he was very young.  There are so many layers to his particular story that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that Kaz has difficulty connecting emotionally to anyone else, as well as physically touching other people, because of what he has experienced.  The fact that he wears black leather gloves almost constantly is a physical representation of his anxiety about getting too close to the people around him.

And how remarkable is it to have a character that gets things done, and does them well, but is also constantly at war within himself?  This is absolutely, 100% groundbreaking in my opinion, and Bardugo treats Kaz’s anxiety and PTSD with the utmost care and sensitivity.  But, she also displays his flaws, delves deep into them, and presents him to the reader warts and all.  I felt in so many ways that Kaz was a mirror that reflected myself back to me – no, I don’t have trouble connecting to other people, but I do have my fair share of serious anxieties, and although I am often on top of them and use them to complete my tasks and responsibilities with even more perfection, they are frustrating and exhausting all the same.  Suffering from anxiety is an everyday battle, and even if things are going well and everything is successful, that doesn’t mean that a person isn’t feeling weakened and vulnerable.  Kaz is such a clear representation of that, this person who is seemingly always in control, but who is battling these harsh demons within himself.  I easily sympathized and empathized with Kaz, and I would encourage every single person to read Crooked Kingdom (and of course, Six of Crows first) to get a sense of what a life with anxiety can be like.

What also struck me about Crooked Kingdom was the emphasis on fighting one’s demons, on doing everything possible to be healthy, to conquer one’s anxieties and weaknesses.  This was a powerful message that I felt truly touched by – I loved the emphasis on doing the work to better yourself, on not just sitting around and saying that you are “damaged” and then doing nothing about it.  Yes, there are so many people who go through grave and traumatic things, but I think what is most inspiring is when these people take those experiences and the pain they feel every single day and channel it into being a good person, or into bettering themselves and learning from their experiences.  There is so much growth to be taken from trauma and pain, and although it is so much easier said than done, I appreciate that Bardugo forces her characters to be self-aware, to understand their flaws and complexities and work on achieving their own version of happiness, whatever that may be.  The treatment of both anxiety and the healing process is flawlessly and movingly done.

“‘I would come for you…I would come for you.  And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together knives drawn, pistols blazing.  Because that’s what we do.  We never stop fighting.’” ~ Kaz to Inej

“‘Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined.  If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.’” ~ Inej to Jesper

Bardugo does so much with her characters in both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and she explores so many wonderful facets of their personalities, that it is quite impossible not to love and root for them.  I was touched by the stories of every single one of the characters, and it was just an added bonus that the plots of the novels were so complex and exciting.

I would HIGHLY recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone.  Leigh Bardugo’s talent as a writer is so evident in these two novels, and it is a genius you won’t want to miss out on!

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

Crooked Kingdom ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Six of Crows – A Mini Review ~ #JNGReads

Well, I’m certainly late to the party with this one, but boy am I glad I finally arrived!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a remarkable, suspenseful, heart wrenching and complex tale. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year, and will go down as one of my all-time favourite novels.

I don’t want this review to be too long or comprehensive because I’m planning to move rapidly into reading the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom. I would much rather wait until I have finished that book to write a full review of the entire series, with more thorough thoughts on the main characters. Having said that, there was something that struck me about Six of Crows and I just felt that I had to get my thoughts on it down in writing.

Six of Crows, as I said before, is remarkable – it is unlike any other novel in so many ways, such as its tone, narration and sophisticated, gothic feel. It is most remarkable, however, in its portrayal of the six characters that serve as the protagonists of the story. Wylan, Jesper, Matthias, Nina, Inej and Kaz are among the most unique, creative and well-articulated characters I have ever encountered in literature. Each one of them has such a vast and complicated personality, with a detailed history, and Bardugo’s genius truly emerges in her narrative style and the fact that she allows each of the six characters to have their own focus while maintaining consistent third person narration. It is a style that is really hard to describe, but it is almost as though the narrator, this omniscient being, decides to hone in on each of the six characters in their own turn, portraying their own internal emotions and anxieties while simultaneously pinpointing how these internal sentiments manifest themselves in outer reality and are perceived by the other characters. I can’t do the style justice by trying to describe it, so believe me when I say that Six of Crows would be worth reading just for the unparalleled narrative style.

But Six of Crows is also worth reading for sooo many other reasons, such as the suspenseful plot and the complex relationships between these six intriguing, flawed but strong characters. Kaz is by far a standout character, but what touched me most profoundly, and what I want to talk about more closely right now, is Bardugo’s portrayal of her two female characters, Nina and Inej. I have not come across such inspiring female characters in a very long time, and I have to admit that Nina and Inej have already inspired me in my own life. They have given me that little extra push I needed to be the strongest, most powerful young woman I can be, and I think we should all be grateful as readers that two female characters like this exist in a young adult novel. I, for one, will be having my future daughter (if I have one) read Six of Crows at an early age because of Nina and Inej.

Nina ~ The Confident and Curvy Grisha

Nina was the character that truly surprised me the most in Six of Crows. When she first appears in the novel, she is working in what I guess is a sort of brothel or something of that sort and she comes across as somewhat flaky and far too focused on physical appearances and superficial things. Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that although Nina is beautiful, she has many gifts as a Grisha Heartrender and is also extremely intelligent, fierce and takes no nonsense from anyone. Above all, she is unfailingly loyal, both to her lover Matthias and eventually to the Six of Crows crew, and she makes sacrifices and wise snap decisions that I really didn’t expect from her. She was just a fascinating example of the appearance vs. reality motif.

What stuck with me most about Nina was her inspiring amount of confidence. It’s mentioned several times in the novel that Nina absolutely loves sweets and food in general, and her voluptuous form is also described. This led me to believe that Nina is more of a curvy figure, and that was something that I seriously LOVED! This is a different topic for another time, but I have always struggled with my weight, body confidence and self-esteem, and no matter how many times my fiancé and my friends tell me that I have nothing at all to worry about, I can’t seem to acquire the confidence I would like to have about this particular aspect of myself. To read about Nina acting with such confidence, particularly in her interactions and when making those snap decisions, was truly eye opening for me. Nina’s body isn’t even a thing that she mentions herself or seems to think about, except in its capacity to assist her in her tasks and when she is using it to her advantage. She seems to truly love herself and take pride in exactly who she is, and all I could think while reading is, I want to be Nina when I grow up. I’m not even close to as confident and self-assured as she is yet, but I would really like to be one day.

The passage that touched me the most with regards to this idea was the following one…

“Do you never doubt yourself?” [Matthias asked Nina.]

“All the time,” she’d said as she slid into sleep. “I just don’t show it.”

Nina is the embodiment of the “fake it till you make it” mentality – and boy, does she ever make it in the end! She became one of my favourite fictional characters ever!

Inej ~ The Defiant and Daring Ghost

While Nina was most probably my favourite character in Six of Crows, Inej was the one that intrigued me the most (and that is saying a lot since Kaz Brekker is very intriguing!). In contrast to Nina, Inej is this slender, silent character that is actually given the nickname The Wraith to describe how adept she is at remaining hidden and taking people by surprise. She was raised as an acrobat, and her athleticism and the way she pushes her body to the ultimate extremes (such as climbing up an incinerator shaft, practically barefoot) is freaking insane! It is totally groundbreaking, in my opinion, to see characters like Nina and Inej working together and becoming such close friends without any competitiveness whatsoever, and it warmed my heart to see this wraith-like figure soften and begin to trust another female. I also couldn’t help but root for Inej, not only in her crazy physical feats, but also in terms of wanting her to find love and respect, and to value herself as more than simply a pawn or tool in Kaz’s missions. I think whereas Nina possesses confidence inherently, Inej truly develops and gains confidence as the novel progresses, especially in her interactions with Kaz, and that is an epic transformation to watch unfold. Although Inej never doubts herself when getting a task done or doing something physical, it is heartwarming to watch her start to believe in her own value more and become self-assured.

Inej’s newfound self-worth is most obvious in a line toward the end of the novel that I just couldn’t get out of my head…

“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

Inej finally has the confidence to go after exactly what she wants, and she refuses to settle for anything less. I was more proud of her than I can adequately express here.

And on that note, let me finish by giving a song recommendation. I am sometimes struck by songs that I like that somehow seem to fit exactly with an aspect of a novel I’ve just read, and today when I was running on the treadmill for an hour (What can I said, Inej inspired me?!), the song “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent came on my iPod. I’ve liked this song since high school, but as I listened to the lyrics today, I couldn’t help but think of Kaz and Inej and their complicated relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I am going to include some lyrics that I think express this comparison, as well as a link to the song below. If you’ve read the novel (and if not, I urge you to ASAP!) you’ll know exactly what I mean.

From “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent

Never understood how she could,

Mean so little to so many

Why does she mean everything to me?

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

******

I never walked so far on a lonely street

With no one there for me

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

Accept this confession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

You’re not my high possession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

My conscience is vicious!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

And I’m begging forgiveness!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-GSagBJgY

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ~ #JNGReads

This is destined to be a year of reading disappointments.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is a book I sooo wanted to give 5 stars to and that I have been very eager to read for months. I actually went to Chapters and picked it up a few weeks ago because I had read so many glowing and sparkling reviews of it and simply had to get my hands on the novel. I put it on the top of my End of 2017 To-Read List, and when I finally started it last Saturday, I had in my mind that it was going to become a new favourite.

It did not, however…far from it, actually. I should clarify that I did NOT hate this novel by any standards and it absolutely wasn’t the worst book I read this year. It did some things remarkably well (I’ll get to this in a moment), and aspects of it genuinely made me laugh and smile. That being said, it was not at all as special as I was expecting it to be, particularly because of all the radiant things my fellow readers have said about it on Goodreads. I was expecting to fall passionately in love with the characters… I did not. I was expecting to be on the edge of my seat as I went on this breathtaking adventure… I was not. I was expecting to have my beliefs and morals shaken to the core… They were not. While Lee writes a book that is clearly very groundbreaking and unique in some ways, it is also utterly stereotypical and common in others. For these reasons, I never found myself fully getting into the story, and I almost dreaded reading it at times because I couldn’t get excited about any aspect of the tale. This was sincerely disappointing to me.

I think where The Gentleman’s Guide failed for me was in terms of the plot. If the characters were not so different and incredible (again, I’ll get to this in a moment), I would’ve rated the book 2 stars for the weak and overdone plot alone. I understand that the main character, Monty, and his friend Percy and sister Felicity are meant to be going on this Grand Tour of Europe, but I felt that the plot was made overly complicated for no apparent reason, and too many archetypes and stereotypes were thrown in to make the story feel like a standard adventure novel. Nothing about the overall adventure plot surprised me whatsoever because everything that occurred was something that I had already seen in this sort of novel before. I feel like, if you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe, you’ve sort of got this idea of what an adventure narrative looks like, and when subtle twists on the same narrative structure are executed, they fail to amuse or engage. For example, was I surprised when Monty, Percy and Felicity ended up being separated from their chaperone and had to live a vagabond life for some time? Nope, because almost every rich character who goes on an adventure is forced to beg and live in impoverished conditions for a time. Was I surprised when it turns out that the only supposed friends Monty, Percy and Felicity find are somewhat villainous? Nope, because every adventure novel will do that sort of 180 on a reader and try to take them by surprise when revealing the true villain of the story. Was I at all intrigued when Monty, Percy and Felicity were attacked and kidnapped by pirates? Definitely not, because I literally read almost the exact same thing a few months ago in Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm. The pirate, turned privateer, turned friend and ally is NOT a new concept. I guess that’s my whole point: nothing about Lee’s story seemed new or fresh, and I have read adventure novels that were executed far better, even just recently. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is a good example, because I feel like Alina and Mal went on almost exactly the same adventure, only in a much more intriguing and exciting manner!

I feel that The Gentleman’s Guide tried too hard to be the quintessential adventure, and so it failed miserably, because it was overladen with tropes and never fully became a unique story in its own right. That is, of course, just my opinion though.

What The Gentleman’s Guide does remarkably well, however, is create realistic and groundbreaking characters. I have to admit right away that I really did NOT like Monty whatsoever. I thought he was an annoying narrator, a frustrating character in general, and that he was too focused on whining and being helpless to actually accomplish anything. Honestly, if it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, I probably would’ve thrown this book at the wall for all Monty’s immature and idiotic behaviour. Having said that, Percy and Felicity more than made up for how much I disliked Monty. Percy is everything Monty is not: mature, poised, resilient and strong. He was the sort of role model that I believe all boys need when growing up, and Lee’s decision to make her characters extremely diverse, in terms of race and sexual orientation, was a very wise one because it made me so eager to root for Percy and so interested in learning more about his character. Percy, in my opinion, is the beacon of The Gentleman’s Guide; his relationship with Monty made me actually soften towards Monty a little (even though I thought the entire time that Percy could do waaay better, and still do think that!). Felicity is another character that truly blew me away. She is this fiercely intelligent young woman of 15 years old, and she is totally unstoppable! She is desperate to have an education, she is constantly reading, but she is also cunning and brave and she saves Monty more times than he would probably care to admit. I believe that Felicity is a fabulous figure for young girls to look up to because she proves that women have just as much power and strength as men. I wish that more of The Gentleman’s Guide focused on Felicity and her growth and development as a character, because it grated on my nerves to read Monty criticizing her when it was so clear that she was much more adept and skilled than him in almost every manner. If it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, honestly, and for the skillful portrayal of diverse characters, it would’ve been a lot harder for me to get through this novel.

For me, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue deserves an average rating. If I were basing my rating just on the stereotypical plot and the frustrating narrator, it would get 2 stars (if that) from me…but for Percy and Felicity, who I truly enjoyed reading about, I’ll award 1 extra star.

As I mentioned previously, though, this novel has very radiant reviews from almost everyone else who has read it…so I am most definitely in the minority here. And, I do encourage readers to pick up this book, if only to get to know Percy and Felicity. So, a bit of a mixed review from me, but overall, I would recommend it as a character study, if not as a daring and exciting adventure tale!

❥❥❥ (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

Broken Prince & Twisted Palace ~ #JNGReads

This, my friends, is what a cash grab looks like…and it ain’t pretty!

I just finished The Royals series, the first of which I read and reviewed about two weeks ago. For whatever reason, Paper Princess left me so riled up and intrigued that I felt compelled to put aside my ginormous To-Read List to get e-book versions of the next two books in The Royals series and finish them immediately. I’m not going to say that I regret doing that, but I certainly wish the series didn’t go as rapidly downhill as it did, specifically once I reached the third book.

I don’t have much to say about the second book in The Royals series, Broken Prince, other than that I REALLY enjoyed it. I’m not ashamed of this whatsoever – it was the exact story I normally like, with the two main characters angry and resisting one another, only to realize that they are better together than apart. Classic cornerstones of the romance genre right there, and I admit that I’m fond of them. I blasted through Broken Prince and I was eager and excited to read it each day; if life and obligations hadn’t gotten in the way, I’m confident I could’ve finished this book in one sitting because it was just that addictive and exciting. I appreciated that we were finally given Reed’s perspective too, and I liked Ella’s feisty character just as much as I did in Paper Princess. If anything, I enjoyed Broken Prince more than Paper Princess because it seemed less far-fetched and farcical and focused more on the emotions Ella and Reed were feeling rather than on outlandish hijinks at their high school, Astor Park Prep. It felt more like a realistic, every day romance than like a soap opera, and I preferred that.

Twisted Palace was all soap opera, though, and that is why I feel that it failed, not only as a conclusion to the series but also as a romance novel in general. When I say it was a soap opera, I don’t mean in the way Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries sometimes was – I mean full-scale, Young and the Restless level, character coming back from the dead soap opera. And I found it…ANNOYING. That’s the best word I can use to describe Twisted Palace – it annoyed me how over the top and ridiculous it all was. I have more to say about this novel because it made me so frustrated, but I’m going to try to resist ranting. What I will do is list some of the things that I found disappointing and ultimately unsuccessful about Twisted Palace

*WARNING: There are SPOILERS ahead!*

1) All of the DRAMA! The plot was absolutely FULL of conflict and drama, and although obviously there needs to be a main conflict in any story, Twisted Palace had so many that the plot actually felt bogged down and absurd. Reed being charged with his father’s girlfriend’s murder…okay, that seems a bit crazy, but I’ll go with it because the book is after all a work of fiction and escapism. Ella’s biological father coming back from the dead…okay, this is starting to seem more ludicrous. Ella’s biological father turning out to be the real murderer and gratuitously mentioning that he was having an affair with Reed’s mother and led her to commit suicide…COME ON!!! What on Earth? That’s how you want to end this series? I knew I would have to ignore some plot holes and accept some completely outlandish storylines, but this was just too much. As I finished the novel late last night, I just felt utterly disappointed that the authors (Erin Watt is the pseudonym for two romance authors working together) would choose to insert all these “twists” at the end for no apparent reason and simply to seem smart. It wasn’t smart…if anything, I felt like it insulted my intelligence a little.

2) The LAME sex scenes! When you’re reading a romance novel, you expect it to be steamy, and Paper Princess and Broken Prince were. At times, they were a touch over the top, but I’m used to that sort of thing, having read a large number of romance novels in my time. Twisted Palace was NOT steamy whatsoever – case in point is how lukewarm the scene of Ella and Reed having sex for the first time was. You do not build up that sort of interaction for 2 and a half whole books only for it to finally come across as blander than a pack of saltines. There was no chemistry between Reed and Ella (not only in this scene, but I’d argue in Twisted Palace in general), the descriptions were sparse and verged toward summary, and every action was an enormous stereotype. My grandmother could’ve written these scenes better! Colour me disappointed, but I was left totally shocked and seriously annoyed!

3) How Reed narrates Ella! In Broken Prince, I liked Reed’s perspective and narration quite a lot…in Twisted Palace, not so much. I felt that Reed infantilized and belittled Ella a lot in his narration in this third installment, not least because he kept freaking calling her “my girl” which grated on my nerves! Ella’s dialogue also comes across as insipid and juvenile when Reed is narrating, and it pained me to see such a strong and unique female character becoming a stereotype in the eyes of the male lead. Ella was whiny and girly and too innocent and naïve, but she was only those things when Reed was narrating, and this gave me a really bad taste in my mouth. It seemed like the authors were suggesting that Reed sees Ella as this prissy girly-girly even though we know (especially from the first book) that she is not that way at all. Whether this was intentional or not, it was poorly done and ill advised!

4) The CASH GRAB feel! I’m sorry, but it feels like Twisted Palace was written to take advantage of the popularity of The Royals series, and for no other purpose than to exploit the fans that liked Ella and Reed so much. There is nothing I hate more than feeling like a story is being made into a series for the sake of it – and that is exactly what I saw happening here. There was absolutely NO need to extend Ella and Reed’s story to 3 books, especially if the third one was going to be such garbage. It felt very much like the authors were just throwing together as many tropes and stereotypes as they could to get a third book completed. There was no passion that I could sense in it whatsoever, and the writing was very lazy. The plot, as I mentioned, was so outlandish that it seemed like the story had run its logical course and the authors were trying to finish a novel that should never have been started. This was what frustrated me most – don’t waste my time with stories that are half-heartedly conceptualized and written because that will only leave me with absolutely NO urge to pick up any of your other books in the future!

I’m glad to be done with The Royals series, and it makes me sad to say that because I was so enjoying it right up until about a quarter of the way through the third book. At that point, though, things started to fall apart very quickly.

I would recommend that readers give Paper Princess and Broken Prince a shot and then stop there. They will get very little enjoyment from Twisted Palace anyway.

Paper Princess ~ ❥❥❥.5

Broken Prince ~ ❥❥❥❥

Twisted Palace ~ ❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Paper Princess ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

Paper Princess by Erin Watt is a hopelessly flawed but utterly addictive novel. It is the ultimate contradiction, both extremely entertaining and borderline offensive and over-the-top. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and although I have a lot of experience reading and reviewing romance novels (many of the more steamy variety), Paper Princess is a story that I struggled with and felt very unsure about.

The plot centers on the life of Ella Harper, a seventeen year old high school student who has been through enough tragedy and turmoil to last a lifetime. She loses her single mother at a very young age and is forced to become a stripper just to put a roof over her own head and attempt to finish school. One day, her deceased father’s best friend, Callum Royal, enters her life as her legal guardian, plucks her out of poverty, and makes her a part of his filthy rich family of five sons. Ella is Cinderella in every way and she eventually adapts to her new fortunes, all the while navigating stormy relationships with her pseudo-step brothers.

This main plot was right up my alley in every way – girl of misfortune becomes a princess. Sign me up. The structure of a great romance was all there and I was ready to dive right in. What didn’t work for me and what gave me pause in enjoying Paper Princess was the age of the main characters and the fact that I found far too many elements of the story and the relationship problematic and unrealistic. Let me break it down for further…

I was totally innocent in high school, and for much of university. I’ll be the first to admit it – no shame here, but I didn’t have much experience in the ways of the heart and body until I was well into my early twenties. Having said that, I went to a high school that reminded me very much of Astor Park, the one Ella and the Royal brothers attend, and it had its fair share of wealthy, athletic and attractive guys. I fancied myself really fond of one in particular. He was your stereotypical pretty boy in every way: rich, athletic, gorgeous, every girl wanted him. Blah blah blah, same old story. Needless to say, he isn’t the man I’m getting married to in just under three months and there’s a 90% chance I would punch him in the face if I saw him on the street right now…I’m a woman scorned, what can I say! But, despite all of that, he never once acted like an outright dick to me during high school and he was, relatively speaking, genuinely nice and kind to me. I was surrounded by a lot of jocks and guys who loved partying, and although I was innocent and pretty aloof like I said, I had female friends that were into all of those things too…but I have never ever encountered any teenagers who act and talk the way those in Paper Princess do. Honestly, there were moments in this novel when even I had to blush, and that is saying a lot considering that I saw and heard a lot of things in high school I’d like to forget, and also when taking into account the fact that I’ve read an impressive number of romance novels in my day. Paper Princess was over-the-top and outlandish in so many ways though, and I am really trying to think if I ever even heard my younger brother telling me stories like the ones that go down in this novel. Hitting a guy over the head with a candlestick and tying him up naked like a pig in a glassed pool house? No, I can’t say I ever did that in high school. Shooting a girl up with a syringe of molly at a house party? Ummm, no, I’m pretty sure no one I ever went to high school with would ever do anything like that because it’s, well, illegal and absolutely absurd and dangerous. Having sex with your much younger girlfriend at the dinner table in front of your teenager daughter? Yeah, so I definitely do NOT know any fathers who would do that because…fuck…just eww.

These are literally some of the scenes that transpire in Paper Princess and I was just reading them thinking to myself, What in the actual fuck? (Excuse the harsh language, but it’s kind of hard to talk about this book without using it.) I spoke to my fiancé about some of these events to see if maybe he encountered anything at all like this at his high school and all he could say was that the novel sounded very “try hard” to him. And that is exactly it – I feel like Erin Watt (who is actually two popular romance authors, collaborating) tried so hard to write an engaging and unique romance story that most of the plot points verged on the impossible and absolutely outlandish! It was so hard to believe that any of these sorts of things would happen to or between seventeen year olds, and although I wasn’t very experienced in high school, I’m still pretty sure that most high school students do not speak in such ridiculously graphic terms. It was just all a little too much for me in the end – my enjoyment of the story was severely hindered by the fact that I felt scummy and disgusting for picturing teenagers doing these super steamy things, and it simply did not vibe well with me whatsoever. If the characters were a bit older, in their early twenties and university, fine – the events were still a bit extreme, but at least I could believe that they might be at that sort of maturity and experience level. But high school students? No, it just felt so weird and wrong and…impossible, like I said.

Further to all of that, I was very frustrated by Ella’s relationship with Reed Royal, the main love interest. Never mind the fact that they’re supposed to be treating each other like siblings, Reed is pretty much a huge ass. And like, yes, I had a crush on a guy just like him, but as I said, he wasn’t a total ass and was, for the most part, a relatively decent guy. It’s one thing to be a bad boy and have a bit of a cocky edge to your personality – it’s not ideal, but I can deal with that from a teenage boy who doesn’t have the insight or sophistication level to not be so entitled. But Reed is too over-the-top, much like the rest of the novel, and I’ve read reviews that called him abusive. I don’t know that I would go that far, but it was very annoying to see this strong and defiant character, Ella, who had been through so much and overcome a lot in her short life, bend to Reed’s every command. I wanted to be on her side because she seemed to be conscious of the risks of her attraction to him in the beginning of the novel, but then she became all too willing to please him and do everything he said. It’s one thing to have certain sexual preferences, and I have no desire to judge or even comment on that because I truly believe each person should be able to do exactly what it is they enjoy, but it does start to grate on my nerves when a confident female character allows a man to dictate her every move and preference. It is one thing to like a man who is tough and powerful, but it is quite another to let him quite literally order you around like you are a slave. That is not okay, and Ella bordered too much, particularly toward the end of the story, toward obeying Reed rather than being his equal.

“I fight it at first, sure. I always fight, but he always wins.

“It’s like he has a hold on me and I’m not sure I like it. But I’m helpless to stop it.”

“‘Maybe this says something about me, but I think it’s hot when you go all caveman on me.’”

What bothers me about the three quotes above is the fact that Ella has doubts…she isn’t 100% sure that she likes how Reed controls her or makes her feel submissive, and yet she goes along with it despite her uncertainties and hesitancy. That is what I disagree with in the representation of this relationship – we have come too far in this day and age to represent women, or worse girls/young adults, who do not stand up for themselves and are not introspective enough to take the time to figure out what it is they want and like. If a woman decides that she likes that sort of relationship, more power to her, but I am troubled by portrayals that show a woman who struggles, who isn’t fully happy in her submissive role, and yet shies away from internal reflection and from pushing herself to investigate why she might be uncomfortable and unhappy. We should be teaching our daughters to explore their passions and desires, most certainly, but to do so in a way that is respectful to as well as open and honest with themselves. If there is even a tiny bit of hesitation or reluctance, then that should be a No, or at the very least a No for now. When Ella does say, toward the conclusion of the story, that she likes when Reed acts like a “caveman”, it’s very unsettling because we, as readers, know that she has tried to put up a fight and we don’t see any points of her reflecting on this instinct to escape from the situation and deciding that she does in fact like to be controlled in that way. If she had done some careful self-reflection of her desires, that is one thing, but Ella does not do that and instead it seems like she is giving into Reed’s will and totally abandoning and ignoring her own. This is the 21st century, and I think we are way past this sort of romantic representation – if Mr. Rochester didn’t control Jane Eyre, if Mr. Darcy didn’t act like a caveman toward Lizzie Bennet, then no 21st century hero has any right to do that with a 21st century heroine…unless she specifically consents and asks. If there is even a hint of fight or resistance in her, then that must win out, every single time. No exceptions.

Why then, you might ask, would I give Paper Princess a 3.5-star rating? It was flawed in many crucial ways and as I reflect more on it, I see it as more troubling than ever before. Having said that, it was addictive, a true page-turner. I don’t know if that has solely to do with Erin Watt’s writing style, or if it is because Ella’s narrative voice is very endearing and distinct, but I couldn’t actually put the book down. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have huge issues with it, but it was entertaining and thought provoking, and so it was more successful for me than a lot of books I’ve read recently.

This is a very hard one to recommend. I would be extremely wary about handing it to my child if they were in high school, but I also feel like adult readers will find it difficult to connect to the young main characters. I don’t know where this graphic novel fits whatsoever, and so I would mainly just recommend it to readers who have heard something about it, whether good or bad, and are curious about it. That is why I picked it up, because of the totally polarizing opinions I had seen of it, and I am glad that I did if only because now I know firsthand what everyone was talking about.

A tough one to review, no question!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Cruel Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Reading Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. I knew I would really struggle to write a review of the book as I was reading it because I knew I’d never be able to fully remember or encapsulate just how weird and confused it made me throughout my reading experience. For that reason, about a third into the story, I decided to start making notes about what I was thinking and feeling as I read, and these are the notes I will present to you as my “review” of sorts. I have to say, I am still 100% confused by this novel because I don’t at all know how to make sense of the plot or the characters or any of it. I am not at all confident in my rating (which you’ll find at the end of this review) because in all likelihood it was heavily influenced by how emotional the ending of the story was and doesn’t take into account how bland and utterly confounding parts of the plot were. But, that being said, I think the purpose of reading is to challenge oneself, and this novel was undoubtedly a challenging one because it forced me to consider what elements I believe make for a great story. Is it a complex plot, or can those sometimes become too ambitious and convoluted? Is it complicated characters, or can they sometimes tend toward hypocrisy and create frustration? Is it a romance that is all encompassing, or can those sometimes become over-the-top and melodramatic? Is it an ending that leaves you raw and uncertain? I can’t say I know any of the answers to those questions, but Cruel Beauty most certainly has all of those things – it was at once vast and overly ambitious, beautiful and annoying. It is a contradiction in so many ways…and yet…I didn’t hate it…or at least, I don’t think I did.

My Thoughts As I Read

As of pg. 125

– Nyx’s internal monologue is grating because her character is not complex enough. She ruminates on the same issues over and over (very redundant!), for example hating her sister and father and aunt and lusting after Shade. However, her monologue never actually leads her anywhere!

– The writing style seems all over the place and is disorienting. Some aspects of the plot are poorly explained, for example the concept of Hermetics and the demons and why the sky is paper… Huh?!

– I really like Ignifex BUT there isn’t enough of him so far! I find Shade boring so I want more Ignifex!

So far, this is at 3 stars for me = no emotional connection or investment on my part yet, but I am still hopeful and intrigued.

– Things I want to learn more about at this point in the novel: 1) Ignifex’s bargains; 2) Ignifex’s past lives; 3) demon lore/explanation of when Ignifex came into power to be more fleshed out

As of pg. 144

– Although the “final prince” storyline is not very fleshed out and not at all well explained, I am so curious in spite of myself!

pg. 164: Literally within the span of one page, Nyx talks about hating and loving Astraia. Just when you think she is growing, either for good or evil, she backtracks. ANNOYING!

– Then an allusion to Ignifex’s masters that gets dropped…when do things come together?

* I will say, Hodge paints the rooms well, like the dripping wet library…BUT her references to mythology are too frequent, jarring and heavy handed.

* I feel like Hodge has a lot of good and intriguing ideas BUT she tries to cram too many of them into one book and it makes the plot feel heavy and cumbersome.

– I will say, I do love how Ignifex talks. I do feel that he has a distinct voice. He is unique from any main male characters I’ve encountered in a while; weirdly, he reminds me both of Josh from The Hating Game and Rhysand from ACOTAR…but he still isn’t quite as intriguing as either of them!

– Finally, a moment that had me slightly breathless and emotional, when Nyx and Ignifex were under the true sky, lying together in the grass, I’m a sucker for simple romance!

pg. 192: Oh lord, Nyx’s internal monogue is sooo repetitive!

As of pg. 238

– Things are finally getting A LOT more interesting. Codes are being cracked and lore is being explained. A romance is blossoming! This is what I wanted from page one…but is it too little, too late?

~ “And I was his delight and he was mine.” ~

– VERY reminiscent of Jane Eyre.

– I’ve read reviews that say that Nyx and Ignifex’s banter gets less witty and entertaining as they fall in love, and with that I must agree. What a shame!

As of pg. 269

– I like Astraia way better than Nyx actually! At least she has conviction and is more of a fighter. Honestly, I am 100% more intrigued now than I have been at any point before this.

– Nyx is so confusing! She will always love Ignifex and yet she is resigned to hurting him…but her mind flip-flops so easily and constantly. CHOOSE ONE THING AND JUST STICK TO IT! It is hard to keep up with her!

As of pg. 300

– I still feel like I barely understand who the Children of Typhon and the Kindly Ones are. I feel like everything will remain unexplained.

~ “I kissed him back like he was my only hope of breathing.” ~

– Okay, that quote is a good one!

……

WOAH! This ending is actually breaking my heart because I hate it when a lover loses her memory and is separated from her beloved! Could this redeem the whole story?

As of The End

– Okay, WOW! That ending was gorgeous and haunting and heart wrenching and dark and convoluted yet so simple. It sort of made the whole messed up story worthwhile because it was strangely beautiful and moving, that image of love holding on for dear life. I think it redeemed the whole novel for me. Wow! The most confusing reading experience I have ever had!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How do you even make sense of that? Like, do those notes even make any sort of sense? I have no idea! Truly, this book is just so utterly baffling – if I think too much about it and try to sort my feelings out, I think I might go crazy. I think this book is designed to make you go crazy as a reader – it’s like, you know that movie Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise that literally made no sense but was oddly brilliant and impossible to look away from? Yeah, that’s the film equivalent of Cruel Beauty. It was like impossible to decipher but impossible not to want to.

ARGH! I. Just. Do. Not. Know. *siiiiiigh*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Wrath and the Dawn ~ #JNGReads

I was about to give The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh 4 stars, but then I just couldn’t do it.

I did absolutely enjoy the story and many aspects of the novel, which I will outline below, but there were an equal number of things that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around and didn’t exactly like. I am a bit disappointed in this because so many reviews I read of the novel were very complimentary, but I can see why readers would love the story and find it engrossing and intoxicating, so I can’t say that I don’t understand the hype. What I will say is that, for me, there were a few more problems with The Wrath and the Dawn than I would’ve liked, so that made it hard for me to give it an above average rating.

I think it’s easiest if I list the things I really liked about The Wrath and the Dawn and then the things I really didn’t, so you can see what I mean. When you break it down to the number of amazing vs. disappointing elements, I believe it is clear why I settled on a 3 rather than a 4-star rating.

What I Really Liked About The Wrath and the Dawn:

  • The Culture and World Building ~ I am half Lebanese myself, and while I adore Middle Eastern food and culture and am marrying a Persian man, I can’t say that I have ever read a novel set in the Middle East. Ahdieh undoubtedly creates a rich and sumptuous world in The Wrath and the Dawn and Khorasan is a kingdom I could easily visualize and get swept up in. Ahdieh’s descriptions of the Middle Eastern clothing, food and landscapes are detailed and intricate, and I found it very fun to try and picture Caliph Khalid’s palace and the various outfits that Shahrzad wore. My mouth also quite literally watered at the descriptions of the food (see the quote below – this is food that I am very accustomed to eating at my own family gatherings!) and I think that in this day and age, we need more Middle Eastern settings to stand out in pop culture and literature. I fully commend Ahdieh for creating such an engrossing and vivid world for her story.

“Soon, platters of food were brought before them – steaming, buttery basmati rice with bright orange saffron staining its center, surrounded by lamb in a savory sauce of dates, caramelized onions, and tangy barberries; skewers of marinated chicken and roasted tomatoes, served alongside chilled yogurt and cucumbers; fresh herbs and lavash bread, with rounds of goat cheese and sliced red radishes splashing brilliant colors against a polished wood backdrop.”

  • The Truly Strong Female Character, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran ~ Having just finished Stalking Jack the Ripper, I was in need of a defiant and self-respecting female character. (I’m sorry, but I believe Audrey Rose was sorely lacking in that department and you can read my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to find out why.) Shahrzad al-Khayzuran is very confident, but she is also human and open to changing her opinions. She isn’t arrogant or narrow-minded and I appreciated the fact that she grew and developed very much throughout the novel, particularly in her relationship with Khalid. I liked Shazi a lot, and I found all of her dialogues, especially with her handmaiden Despina, to be super witty and entertaining.
  • The Man that Lets Her Be Strong ~ I also always appreciate it when a male character encourages his female counterpart to be strong, to harness her power and to grow her self-esteem. Although it was touchy at first, Khalid truly does become a character that pushes Shazi to be better and gives her the opportunity to challenge herself and become the queen she is meant to be. This is a truly amazing interaction to behold between the two main characters.

“‘Do better than this, Shazi. My queen is without limitations. Boundless in all that she does. Show them.’”

“‘Shahrzad al-Khayzuran! You are not weak. You are not indecisive. You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure.’”

~ Khalid to Shahrzad

What I Didn’t Love About The Wrath and the Dawn:

  • The Instalove ~ It made very little sense to me how Shazi and Khalid just fell in love all of a sudden, and I feel that comes down to a failing with the pacing and storytelling in The Wrath and the Dawn. It seemed really abrupt that Shazi went from wanting to kill Khalid to saying that he is the air she breathes. I’ll get into more detail about this in a second, but in the very beginning of the narrative, very little dialogue or interaction between Shazi and Khalid is shown, so it sort of comes across that they become attracted to one another and fall in love instantly, all in the span of one night when they leave the palace to have some fun together. This annoyed me a bit because I was expecting this scenic and very romantic relationship that sort of never happened, in my opinion, and was very rushed.
  • The Disjointedness ~ This sort of relates to the Instalove idea: I felt that the plot of The Wrath and the Dawn was somewhat disjointed and lacked focus. The novel is supposed to be about Shahrzad volunteering to be Khalid’s bride and saving herself from being murdered at dawn (as all of Khalid’s other wives are) by telling him stories that will pique his interest and then will lead to affection on his part. This concept is fascinating and could make for a totally unique love story…but for whatever reason, Ahdieh chose to abandon the concept very early on in the story. As readers, we watch Shazi tell Khalid two or three stories, and then it is alluded to that she tells him more, but we never witness it, so it feels like the entire crux of the novel is ignored. We also never see Khalid fall in love with Shazi through her stories, and this sort of made me feel jilted or like the story was incorrectly branded and marketed.
  • The Scattered Nature of the Storylines ~ In the same sense that the narrative of The Wrath and the Dawn felt very disjointed, the plot came across as incredibly scattered to me. I think that Ahdieh tried to accomplish too much in one novel, and rather than honing her focus on Shazi and Khalid and their quest to understand each other and explore what ruling Khorasan together can mean, Ahdieh chose to explore side plots related to Shazi’s father Jahandar and her childhood sweetheart Tariq. While this created some conflict in regards to her growing feelings for Khalid, it also came across as drama for the sake of it. The same is true of the conflicts between Khalid and the ruler of the neighbouring kingdom, Parthia – I believe it would have been enough to explore further how the people of Khorasan feel about their seemingly malicious and monstrous boy-king, rather than adding in a conflict with another territory entirely.
  • The Random Tidbits That Go Unexplained ~ Following on the previous point, Ahdieh mentions a lot of ideas that are never explained. The whole novel seems to be one big cliffhanger because so much of the characters’ development is left to be done. For example, Shazi and her father Jahandar’s magical abilities are never explored (What was with the burning book and the magic carpet?), Despina’s pregnancy and her pseudo-relationship with Jalal is left entirely unresolved, and Shazi’s younger sister comes across as a huge and important character in the first few chapters, only to disappear midway through the story. The final 20 pages of the novel are also very frustrating in that they are not only a cliffhanger, but they also introduce some elements to the story that were not present before and that aren’t explained at all, such as why Jalal would want Shazi to leave Khorasan forever after he encouraged her romance with Khalid, whether or not Khalid knew that Khorasan was going to burn, and the notion that Jahandar, who up until this point seems unfailingly loyal to his daughters, failed them as a father for their whole lives. I wanted desperately for the end of the novel to blow me away and solidify that 4-star rating, but is just did not! If anything, it confused me more and made me feel less inclined to pick up the sequel.

It makes me sad, but it really looks like I didn’t like more about The Wrath and the Dawn than I liked. Having said that, it wasn’t a dreadful or tedious read, so I would probably still recommend it as one of the slightly better young adult novels I have read recently. All in all, though, The Wrath and the Dawn was, for me, mediocre at best.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Stalking Jack the Ripper ~ #JNGReads

No one is more disappointed in this book, or in my reaction to it, than I am.

I desperately wanted to love Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, and really I should have. It is the exact sort of historical fiction novel that would normally be right up my alley: a look at Victorian London during the tumultuous time of Jack the Ripper’s reign, as told by a young woman struggling to break free of societal norms and pursue science, forensics and academia. Doesn’t that sound like something I would absolutely love, as the intense and passionate pseudo-Victorian I am? Shouldn’t I have felt a strong connection to the narrator and protagonist Audrey Rose Wadsworth, especially considering that I have often imagined myself living in the Victorian era and have fancied that I might be a bit of a badass amateur detective too? Well yeah, all of that is true…but for whatever reason, I could not connect to Audrey Rose (on the contrary, I found her extremely annoying – more on that to come), I was not at all attracted to or intrigued by her love interest Thomas Cresswell, and I found it very difficult to follow what little action there was in the plot. Argh, I am actually so frustrated because I feel that this novel had such potential considering the awesome premise, but it just totally failed on every account for me – to be perfectly honest, I could barely keep my mind from wandering as I read and Maniscalco’s writing style and Audrey Rose’s voice in no way captured my attention.

Honestly, what a mess – the novel probably isn’t that bad in theory and I know my opinion is really unpopular, so there are a ton of people who really loved this story, but I just could not get into it, no matter how hard I tried. And that makes me so sad! Reading Stalking Jack the Ripper was, for me, a very similar experience to reading Anna and the French Kiss earlier this year. Anna and the French Kiss is a novel that so many readers absolutely adore and rave about, and my expectations were so high when I picked it up. That’s what made it even more disappointing when I found myself getting seriously annoyed by Anna and hating her crush St. Clair. I wanted to love them, but that meant that I felt like I was constantly trying to force myself to find the story enjoyable. And I don’t think you should ever have to force yourself to love a book…that sort of excited feeling should come naturally!

If I’m being truthful, I disliked Stalking Jack the Ripper for the same reasons I disliked Anna and the French Kiss: I found the narrator and female lead to be insufferable and insipid, and I found her love interest to be flat and boring. That really is an unpopular opinion because I have read so many reviews where readers said Audrey Rose was fierce and inspiring and Thomas was swoon-worthy…but I’m just left thinking, Huh? What did I miss?

Allow me to go into why I disliked each of these characters so that you don’t think I’m an immature reader who just felt like hating on a popular novel. Let’s start with Thomas – he is the absolute most bland love interest I have ever encountered, except for the previously mentioned St. Clair. I truly do not get Thomas’ appeal whatsoever. He’s supposed to be this freakishly intelligent, Sherlock Holmes type character, but all of his deductions are seriously lame. It’s like he’s grasping at straws half the time when he deduces anything about Audrey Rose, like, for example, saying that her mother must have died and her relationship with her father must be strained because she plays with the ring she always wears. Like what? Or that she must’ve been visiting Bedlam Asylum because she has rust stains on her hands. I was seriously confused by Thomas’ train of thought for about 95% of the time he was present in the novel, and it felt like Maniscalco was trying desperately to make him resemble Sherlock Holmes but failing miserably because, let’s be honest, she isn’t Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle, so how could she possibly replicate those sorts of thought processes? I don’t know, it all felt like a poorly done parody to me, and I didn’t even find Thomas’ attempts at flirtation to be that intriguing because it felt like it was coming out of nowhere. One minute he’d be focused on his allegedly brilliant thoughts and then he’d come out with a very weak flirtatious line about Audrey Rose’s lips or something equally cliché. I mean, colour me bored and unimpressed…I read most of his dialogues with Audrey Rose with one eyebrow raised, thinking, Where on earth is this even going? In my opinion, Audrey Rose and Thomas had absolutely 0 chemistry, and I think the novel simply did not need a love interest for Audrey Rose because she would’ve had the exact same adventure in every way without Thomas. Why are love interests always gratuitously slipped into young adult novels for the sake of it? I’m done with it…make the love story interesting and productive or don’t put it in at all please!

Having said that, Thomas had one funny line in the novel that I actually liked…ONE line in 320+ pages. *sigh*

“‘It’s been as pleasant as a fast day in Lent, gentlemen.’” ~ Thomas

Okay, on to Audrey Rose, one of the most annoying and air-headed protagonists I have ever encountered. I’m not going to go into detail about how she literally stumbles on every clue toward solving her case without any actual effort or agency – other reviewers have done that better than me, so be sure to check out their reviews on Goodreads. What I will say is that everything about Audrey Rose seemed to be a huge contradiction. She is the actual definition of the whole “The lady doth protest too much” idea. Basically, Audrey Rose wants to study science, she wants to be part of the male dominated profession of forensic science, she wants to attend classes and make a name for herself. That is great, totally encouraged, go you, Audrey Rose, girl power! However, what irked me to no end is the fact that Audrey Rose goes on and on about how, despite being into science, she still loves the finer things in life while simultaneously criticizing others for loving those finer things. Don’t misunderstand me: I am all for Audrey Rose being a badass serial killer hunter and still wearing makeup and pretty dresses and drinking fine tea. Trust me, I am that person who likes wearing pink frilly blouses to hard rock concerts; if anyone gets having multiple layers to one’s personality and a variety of different passions and interests, it’s me. But what got to me is that Audrey Rose will talk about wanting to be able to wear makeup and pretty dresses while using her brain, but then go on to look down upon her female peers who wear makeup and pretty dresses. Audrey Rose is, quite frankly, a snob because she seems to have this idea that if a woman is going to be girly or prim and proper, she is wasting herself because she isn’t pursuing something seriously academic. But really, this is the exact same thing as people implying that Audrey Rose can’t be a beautiful woman and be a scientist: BOTH of these things are stereotypes and BOTH of these reactions are caused by prejudice and judgment. If a woman wants to use her brain to become the best party thrower in Victorian England, that is her right, but Audrey Rose seems to think this is not a worthwhile enterprise, so she criticizes it to no end. It would be one thing if Audrey Rose was totally against the luxuries of being of a higher class…maybe then it would make sense for her to criticize the women around her because she is doing everything in the name of science and intelligence…BUT this isn’t even the case because Audrey Rose herself states that she loves being of a higher class on multiple occasions, so it comes across as her being super conceited and thinking that only the way she goes about being of a higher class is the right way. It’s just pompous and came across as super annoying to me! I got to the point where I wanted to punch Audrey Rose in the face a few times for being so judgy – she was actually more of an asshole than characters like her Aunt Amelia who were supposed to be the old-fashioned, judgmental ones.

Anyway, I identified a few quotes where Audrey Rose was being particularly judgmental and stuck up, and I’m going to include them below, lest you all think I’m just being rude! Obviously, any text is open to interpretation, so maybe I’m just being touchy about all this, but it got to me and seriously hindered my reading experience.

  • “‘You speak as if you’d like to throw away your good name and swash the decks yourself.’” = So apparently, if science isn’t a person’s chosen profession, Audrey Rose is going to scorn it. Let’s say her brother Nathaniel did want to give up his high class to become a sailor…would that be so bad? Audrey Rose seems to think it’s worthy of mockery. And obviously she doesn’t like the idea of giving up lavish luxury very much herself.
  • “‘Their biscuits are my favourite for tea,’ I said.” = In the middle of a murder investigation, all Audrey Rose can think about is how good certain biscuits are when she has her tea. Talk about first world problems!
  • “I couldn’t control my lip from curling at his ability to ignore the cesspool of filth that had been wiped all around the glass. God only knew what kind of disease he was potentially being exposed to.” = When visiting a bar in the lower class area where many of Jack the Ripper’s victims were found, Audrey Rose can’t help but focus on how dirty and unsightly everything is…because that should really be the major concern of a detective who is meant to be helping the lower class people, not being disgusted by them!
  • “gathering my skirts like silent witnesses” = I’m sorry, but this is the worst simile ever! Does that idea even make sense?
  • “Her hair – somewhere between caramel and chocolate – was twisted into an intricate design about her crown. I’d love to fashion mine in a similar way.” = Oh, so you do love looking beautiful, eh Audrey Rose?
  • “If only life’s problems could be solved with a frilly dress and a pair of slippers. To hell with the world around us, so long as we looked our best.” = This is a great example of Audrey Rose being a pompous ass – her tone is so sarcastic and mocking, but this is only pages after she’s talking about how she wants to try out a hairstyle like her cousin’s. I mean, come on – can’t she be a little more accepting, the same way she’d like others to be? No, instead she is an actual snob!
  • “Here I was, playing dress-up while Uncle was in the asylum and a murderer was butchering innocent women.” = I don’t think you can have it both ways, Audrey Rose! Yes, you can be beautiful and smart, but you can’t criticize people for loving the finer things to the point of obliviousness and then do the exact same thing yourself…because it is ANNOYING!

Ugh, I am so over this novel! I am really mad that I didn’t like it, and I am 100% frustrated by the fact that I didn’t seem to get this novel. What an utter disappointment!

“‘There’s nothing better than a little danger dashed with some romance.’”

Agreed…but sadly, this book has NEITHER!

I’m really tempted to give it 1 star…but I’m not a heartless guttersnipe, so I’ll bump it to 2 because it was at least a quick, short read and Audrey Rose’s outfits sounded pretty. UGH!

Also, if you’re looking for a book that does everything Stalking Jack the Ripper attempts to do but better, read A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro!

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green (and VERY Disappointed) 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