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

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #2

Hello and Happy Monday!

It’s a holiday here in Toronto, so I decided to postpone my Weekly Round-Up until today to give you a full picture of what I accomplished this week. I’ll be following the same format I used last week, and this was an incredibly productive weekend where I was actually able to finish three books and write reviews of them. I was so happy with this and I really feel like my commitment to reading has picked up a lot this year! Last year, I struggled to balance working full-time, commuting, spending time with my fiancé (we were living apart) and reading in the evenings. My only reading time came during my lunch breaks and my evening bus rides. I was quite worried, when I moved in with my fiancé and started walking to work, that without an evening bus commute, I wouldn’t be reading very much at all. But, as it turns out, I’ve been spending more time than ever reading, and I’m actually zipping through books as quickly as I used to in school – this is all down to the fact that my fiancé and I have this amazing routine where we go to the gym right after work, make dinner and then spend the entire night (hours on hours) reading beside one another on our plush, gold couch with steaming teas. My fiancé is big on reading graphic novels, and he gets so excited about reading beside me and pausing to tell me bits and pieces of his stories, and this offers me so much time to delve into my own fictional worlds. I’m obsessed with this new routine of ours, and honestly, I get really grumpy and annoyed if anything at all happens to interrupt it!

Anywho, on to my more formal update for this week. Here is a reminder of the topics I will be discussing in today’s Weekly Round-Up…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’m about 20 pages into Graeme Simsion’s contemporary novel The Rosie Project. I’ve been taking this one slow, since I started it yesterday, because I spent a lot of time reading on Friday and Saturday, so I just want to slow down my reading a touch. Having said that, I don’t know how I feel about this novel just yet. I know I’m not very far into it at all, but I can already tell that I’m not really connecting to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman. I should say that I am not at all a fan of the show the Big Bang Theory, and I’ve heard Tillman being compared to the character Sheldon Cooper, so I am a bit wary of that. But, I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a long time, so I’m going to plug through it and give it a chance. Hopefully, it ends up surprising me!

• Recently Finished •

This past weekend, I finished three books in total, two of which I started and finished within a day. The three novels were Shooting Scars and Bold Tricks by Karina Halle and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. You can read my detailed reviews of them here and here.

• What’s Next •

That is a darn good question! I really have no idea what I’m going to read after finishing The Rosie Project, and this is NOT for lack of physical books around me. I have about 20 books sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be picked up. Some of them are standalone, contemporary novels. Others are massive fantasy series. I have no idea what my plan is, or when I’m going to get through all of these. I’m thinking, though, that after finishing The Rosie Project, I may read one more standalone novel, and then delve into the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. I think that will allow me to put a significant dent in my contemporary literature pile, but then get back into the fantasy realm that I’m missing a little bit. One thing I do know for sure is that I want to finish off the year reading a classic, and I’ve already decided that my December read will be Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So, if all goes according to plan, by the time I get married, I will be deep into Bleak House – I think that’s fitting considering I’m having a Victorian-inspired wedding!

• Quote of the Week •

This week’s quote comes from a song, rather than a work of literature. I’ve been listening to Sia’s song Helium nonstop for the last little while, and I absolutely love it! It reminds me so much of my relationship with my fiancé, and it is the song I always rush to put on at work whenever I’m feeling the least bit anxious or depressed.

“But even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman’s soul /

Help me out of this hell /

Your love lifts me up like helium.”

• Song of the Week •

Naturally, my song choice of the week is Sia’s Helium. Having said that, my fiancé and I recently signed up for a Spotify account, so that has made sooo much music available to us! This past weekend, we’ve been obsessed with listening to the soundtrack for the musical Hamilton, and I’m literally addicted to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius (okay, everyone knows this already, but I felt I should restate it), and if I had to select one favourite song from Hamilton, I’d go with Helpless because it is adorable and harkens back to all these incredible love songs from the 50’s. I LOVE it! Everyone needs to listen to this soundtrack! (I’m actually currently listening to it, as I write this, and My Shot is such a catchy song too – it is just way too difficult to pick a favourite!)

• Photo of the Week •

My favourite photo of this week is another one my fiancé took of me during our bookish photoshoot a couple of weeks ago. I originally thought this photo was too ridiculous to post and that it was a bit embarrassing, but after I put it on Instagram, so many people complimented me on it that I started to see it as cute and endearing. And really, my whole inspiration for it was to look like Eliza Doolittle, balancing books on her head in the hopes of becoming a dignified lady, as paradoxical as that may seem!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it will go by quickly. I have so many fun plans for next weekend already, including going to a Greek food festival downtown and celebrating my mom’s birthday, and I just can’t imagine sitting at my desk for hours and daydreaming about freedom. I’m also going out tonight with my fiancé and my dad – we’re heading downtown to see the WWE’s Monday Night RAW live. I am actually so excited about this because I LOVE wrestling and I grew up watching Monday Night RAW with my dad, so I cannot wait to be watching it live, in such a big venue (I’ve been to see WWE wrestling at a smaller venue in Oshawa, but this is Monday Night RAW we’re talking about)! Amidst all this excitement, and considering that my wedding is just over four months away, I really am over work – but I mean, aren’t we all, especially on long weekends? And all things considered, my job and work environment are pretty awesome…so maybe my weekly wish should be that I’ll feel inclined to complain less…???

Enjoy your Monday everyone! I know Mondays can be tricky days, but isn’t it nice to get a fresh start every week? Let’s all try to embrace it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – #JNGReads

I’ve wanted to read Jenny Han’s young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the moment I saw the adorable front cover. And yesterday, I finally read it…all in one day.

I should be clear, that rarely happens for me. I’m really not the type of reader to finish a book all in one day – work and life obligations usually get in the way, and ever since graduating from my Master’s, I haven’t had the will power or desire to blast through a story. I’ve preferred to take novels more slowly and not pressure myself to get through them so quickly or within a strict timeline.

But, every now and then, a book is so easy and effortless to read that it begs to be finished all in one day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that book – it is written in such a fluid and engrossing style that I couldn’t put it down, that I sped through the beautiful pages (truly, the font is just gorgeous) faster than I have in a very long time. Han’s writing is elegant and simple, but her narrator, Lara Jean Song Covey, is an endearing character whose voice it is easy to get swept up in. The plot flows smoothly, with moments of excitement and uncertainty planted naturally within the 355 pages, and the dialogue is witty and clever in so many places. Lara Jean’s conversations with her friend Chris, her fake boyfriend Peter, and best friend and former crush Josh, as well as her two sisters Margot and Kitty, are realistic and detailed, from chats about zits and Christmas cookies and puppies, to conversations about more serious topics like sex and death and betrayal. Every aspect of the novel is human and real, and I was engrossed in Lara Jean’s life from the first page, and especially impressed by how details of her past were interwoven seamlessly amongst the present day narration.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential young adult romance – and I know just how successful it is at nailing this genre because I read a novel that failed just this year. As I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t help but compare it to Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss, which I honestly did not like at all. That is a VERY unpopular opinion and I don’t want to start ranting about it all over again because it will ruin the warm and fuzzy feeling that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me, but suffice it to say that I found all of the characters in Anna and the French Kiss to be seriously bratty and annoying, particularly the narrator Anna. Placing Anna in contrast to Lara Jean was very enlightening because it emphasized to me how successful Han was in creating a genuine and likeable narrator – Lara Jean is noticeably flawed, and she is still growing and learning in many ways, but she is also trying her best to be a kind, good person. She isn’t entitled, she doesn’t take life or love for granted, and she doesn’t take herself or her teenage struggles too seriously. Yes, she is mortified when the love letters she writes to her past crushes are accidentally mailed out and her feelings are revealed to them, but she is logical enough to not fall apart, to continue her relationships, to strongly stand before these guys and try to navigate the issue without fearing of her emotions or theirs. Lara Jean is really quite mature, and I think it is easy for the reader to feel inclined to cheer her on!

I really liked Lara Jean very much. I’ve read some reviews where readers have said that they disliked her because she spends much of the novel lusting after her sister’s boyfriend, but I have to severely disagree on that. Lara Jean very quickly realizes that her feelings for Josh are buried in the past, and she does everything in her power to avoid hurting her sister. She does not try to steal Josh from her, she does her best to think of him only as a friend, and I think ultimately she succeeds. Teenage love is complicated and not so easy to navigate, but I think Lara Jean is very mature about her complex relationship with Josh and I believe she acts in ways that are respectful to her sister. I was impressed with how sophisticatedly Lara Jean handled this complicated situation, and I found little to criticize her for in this instance.

I will say, though, that the highlight of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for me, was not the romance. Lara Jean’s crushes and her pseudo-relationship with Peter are really sweet and cute, but it would’ve ultimately bored me if they were the only, or even the central, focus of the novel. Instead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before focuses heavily on the Covey family, on the dynamic between siblings Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty and their father. It is absolutely fascinating to see these characters interact, and I was blown away by how realistically Han describes the family life in this story. Margot was an impressive character, a truly inspiring older sister figure, and I found her relationship with Lara Jean, especially in the end when they momentarily fight and must make their way back to each other, to be incredibly heartwarming. The stand out character, however, was Kitty, in my opinion. This 9 year old girl is absolutely hilarious and such a firecracker! Her voice was so distinct, but not too juvenile, and I was so impressed by her one liners. I found myself laughing out loud at so many points because of the adorable and surprisingly adult things Kitty said, and her maturity in interacting with her sisters and father was uniquely portrayed. I have never encountered a child character like her in literature and I would be so interested to read a novel all about her and have a chance to see her grow older. She was undeniably my favourite part of the whole story (and I am really glad she got her puppy in the end – it was well deserved)!

All in all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was an impressive young adult novel. So many young adult novels fail to hit hard, to take their readers seriously and present them with complex and intricate characters whose personalities need to be unraveled and analyzed. Han doesn’t underestimate or belittle her young adult readers, and I appreciate the scope of her novel, how she chose not to just present a simple and cute love story but instead decided to also explore the inner workings of a strong and inspiring family. I may not rush out to buy the second and third novels in this series (mainly because I have many books on my To Read List at the moment), but I will definitely pick them up eventually because I would be happy to visit Lara Jean’s world again. Her and her sisters were characters unlike any I have encountered in recent years, and I look forward to getting to spend time with them again soon.

I highly recommend this one, to young adult readers and to older readers as well – definitely check it out before the movie adaptation, which is currently in the works, comes out!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #1

Hi Everyone and Happy Sunday!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blog lately, and how frequently I post, and I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for posts that I can publish in between book reviews. As I mentioned recently, I’ve been reading a lot of series of books (such as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas and the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo) and I seem to feel more comfortable reviewing these series once I’ve finished all of the books in them. For that reason, I don’t have as many book reviews to post, as often, and I was beginning to get self-conscious about the fact that too much time was passing between my posts. I’ve also always intended for my blog to have lifestyle aspects as well, and it is a very personal endeavour for me, so I’ve been trying to come up with ways to update all of you lovely readers on both what I’m reading and what I’m up to on a regular basis.

For all these reasons, I think I’m going to introduce a new type of post to the blog: a Weekly Round-Up. This will be a good way for me to discuss what I’m reading, even if I’m not ready to post a formal review, as well as what other elements of pop culture I’ve been loving at the moment. Particularly with my wedding rapidly approaching (less than 5 months now!!!), I thought this would also be a great way to let you all know how planning is coming along and share some of the wedding-related excitement that I’m currently experiencing.

I came up with a general structure for these Weekly Round-Ups, but it absolutely will be subject to change depending on the week and the updates I want to share with all of you. I’ve had so many sources of inspiration for this sort of post from the multiple brilliant bookish blogs I’ve started following and avidly reading recently, but I’ve tried to tweak the format and content to something that will work for me personally and will fit with the theme of The World of my Green Heart. Generally, JNG’s Weekly Round-Up will include the following components…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

So, let’s get right into it then – here is my Weekly Round-Up for this week…

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’ve gone back to my romance loving roots, and I am so close to finishing the first novel in the Artists Trilogy by Karina Halle, Sins and Needles. I have to say, it is unlike any “romance” novel I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely sexy and intense, but what I appreciate is that there isn’t too much of a focus on the actual romance between the two main characters, Ellie and Camden. Although their budding relationship is certainly an important part of the plot, their relationship is also much more realistic in that they actually do things together, they face many obstacles and they do much more than lie in bed all day and talk about how much they love each other. Ellie and Camden are also two extremely badass characters, with complex and intricate backstories, and the fact that Camden is a tattoo artist just adds to the uniqueness of the entire story. And, sidenote, I really badly want a tattoo now…like REALLY badly! I’m definitely really excited to finish this first book and delve deeper into the series as a whole.

• Recently Finished •

Earlier this week, I finished the third and final novel in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. You can read my review of the series here, but I will repeat that I definitely did enjoy this series very much! While it wasn’t my favourite fantasy series that I’ve read this year, I was thoroughly impressed by the world building, the intricate detail of the powers of each of the Grisha, and I grew to love the characters, particularly Alina, as they grew and progressed from the first novel. It was a highly entertaining series and I would definitely recommend it – I think it would probably really suit an older young adult audience, especially students in grade 12 or entering university.

• What’s Next •

This section is easy this week because, as I said before, I’m planning to continue the Artists Trilogy and move onto the second novel in Karina Halle’s series as soon as I finish the first (which will definitely happen today).

• Quote of the Week •

This section will probably always prove to be a bit tricky for me because, when I’m reading a novel I’m thoroughly into, I tend to be moved by many passages and sentences throughout my reading experience. This week though, I think I’ll select a quote from my current read, Sins and Needles, because when I read it, I felt that it so expertly represented the intricacies of love, the intricacies of personalities, and the fact that loving someone means accepting all of the components of their identity and being, and loving each of them with an open mind and heart.

“‘Beautiful, sad, wounded, and lost…A freak, a work of art, a liar, and a lover.’” ~ Camden speaking of Ellie

• Song of the Week •

Okay, this is truly tricky because I am loving sooo much music at the moment! I’m specifically really into the band Haim, who I only discovered a few months ago but have become totally obsessed with. Their music is so different and unlike anything I’ve ever heard recently, and it calls back to the 80’s in so many fabulous ways. Their harmonies are also absolutely GORGEOUS, and their chemistry, considering that they are three sisters, is endearing. If I had to pick one of their songs as my favourite for this week, I’d have to go with their single Want You Back from their new album Something To Tell You. The music video for this song is extraordinary and I swear I watch it about 5 times a day – it’s like I’m addicted to it! The ladies of Haim are just so effortlessly cool and I want to be one of them – go YouTube this music video ASAP!

• Photo of the Week •

This week, I asked my wonderful fiancé to take a bunch of new photos of me, and because he’s such a great sport, he went all out and spent about an hour photographing me. I’ve seen so many adorable photos on Goodreads lately of readers with their most favourite books, and I desperately wanted a nice one of myself with my cherished fictional friends. So, here you have a photo of me with my favourite stories – I happen to think my fiancé did a wonderful job of capturing my bookish qualities!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it would be fall again. I have to be honest, I despise summer – it is too hot and sticky and I just can’t deal with the sun because it makes me itchy and grumpy. All I want is for it to be October or November or December, when the weather is cool but not unbearably frigid. And I’m sorry, but the environment looks so much more beautiful in the fall, when the trees are all colourful and the landscape is more rustic. Are these photos below not solid evidence of that?

There we are, my first Weekly Round-Up! I hope you enjoyed it…let me know what you think of this new (for me) post idea!

Have a lovely end to your weekends, Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Grisha Trilogy – #JNGReads

My foray into the genre of young adult/new adult fantasy continues with my completion of The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo…

This trilogy comprises the novels Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, all of which follow the story of Alina Starkov, a powerful Grisha (a sort of magician) who learns through a traumatic near-accident that she possesses the ability to summon light. Henceforth referred to as The Sun Summoner, Alina is given Saint-like status among the citizens of her home of Ravka, and she is pursued endlessly by characters like The Darkling, Nikolai “Sturmhond” Lantsov and a figure known as the Apparat, all of whom wish to control and make use of her unique powers. She is aided in her quest to bring peace to Ravka, at any cost, by her childhood best friend Mal, and by new friends she meets along her travels, such as Genya (a fellow Grisha with remarkable talents for tailoring and altering physical appearance, and by far one of the most fascinating characters in the series), Baghra, Tamar and Tolya. It’s pretty easy to get a detailed synopsis of all three of these novels online, so I won’t go into any more detail than that, but suffice it to say that Alina’s life goes from ordinary to dramatic and dangerous in the span of a few short chapters.

I don’t normally read all of the books in a series at once (in fact, I think that before this year, I hadn’t read an entire series from start to finish since reading the Twilight series when I was in grade 11), but it is something I’ve been doing a lot lately. The Grisha Trilogy came onto my radar a few months ago when I was buried deep in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas – I was looking for something to fill the void that I knew would inevitably be left by Feyre and Rhysand, and I noticed rave reviews on Goodreads of both Maas’ other series, Throne of Glass, as well as of Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. Thinking it was a good idea to get some distance from Maas’ writing style and some variation in what I was reading, I put the Grisha Trilogy on my immediate To-Read list. In a wonderful twist of Fate, my fiancé went out a few days later to Chapters and bought me 9 different books (he’s amazing, I know!), including the entire Grisha Trilogy. Once I finished a few novels that I had been waiting to read for awhile, and put some distance between myself and the ACOTAR series, I was reading to dive right into Bardugo’s world.

And, it is quite a remarkable world! From the first pages of the book, when the reader is faced with an impressive and imposing map, it becomes obvious that the tale will literally span an entire world that Bardugo has painstakingly created. Based on Russian culture, this world encompasses multiple kingdoms and involves many cultural and political structures that are both recognizable to readers and yet extremely unique and well-executed. Most notably, Alina finds herself a reluctant Saint figure, and she is constantly overwhelmed by the religious fanatics that follow and worship her. Class struggles are also prominently explored, particularly because Alina is an orphan and was raised in the lower class as a member of the First Army, prior to discovering her Grisha powers and achieving elite status. There is a noticeable divide between the soldiers of the First Army, who are human, and the Grisha of the Second Army who practice the Small Science, and prejudice is a theme that Bardugo explores subtly but at length. Bardugo’s world is intricate, fleshed out and realistic, and there is no doubt that she spent a great deal of time not only creating human culture but also envisioning unique terrains and environments (her description of the Shadow Fold alone, and its various creatures such as the volcra, is detailed and thorough).

Bardugo’s characters are undoubtedly the most engaging part of the series, though, and it is because of the characters that I chose to wait to write a review of the entire series, rather than writing individual reviews of the books within it. The main reason for this is that I was not a huge fan of any of the characters (except for The Darkling – more on this later) after reading the first book. I think Sarah J. Maas’ ACOTAR series is largely to blame for this because I found myself constantly comparing Alina to Maas’ main character, Feyre Archeron. Probably it wasn’t the best idea to read the Grisha Trilogy so soon after finishing the ACOTAR series, and I must admit that, if it weren’t for the fact that I had all three novels of the Grisha Trilogy sitting in my house, I may not have actually moved onto the second novel so quickly after the first one. I definitely would have finished the series at some point, but the first novel did not make me that eager to dive into the second right away, which is totally different from my experience of Maas’ trilogy, where I actually rushed out to buy the next two books in the series because I was so shaken by the first. As I said, this difference is mainly due to the striking differences between the two main characters of each of these series – where Feyre is strong-willed, vocal and fierce, I found Alina to be quiet, meek and far too self-conscious. For most of the first novel, Alina doubts her powers and Grisha status, and when she does finally begin to accept that there hasn’t been a mistake (how could there be, since the power did in fact come from her body?), she continuously laments the fact that Grisha are normally born naturally beautiful and she is just plain and unspectacular (in her own eyes, at least). It became tedious to constantly read about Alina’s self-esteem issues, especially because I was hoping to see her develop some internal strength and purpose from her Grisha status – this was her chance to become extraordinary for her talents and abilities and amass confidence from what she has to offer, rather than how she looks. Unfortunately, I found that Alina made it to the end of the novel without ever truly growing or achieving any sort of force or strength of character. Even worse than that, she continued to pine over her childhood friend and crush, Mal Oretsev, who I found to be boring, stereotypical and one-dimensional. He didn’t grow or develop much as a character, either, during the first novel, and I found this very frustrating. (I should say that his character grew on me by the conclusion of the final novel, but I still only really felt as connected to him as I would to any plot device, designed to propel the main characters forward and challenge and interrogate them.)

Like I said, if it wasn’t for the fact that the second novel was sitting on my bookshelf and staring me in the face, it would’ve taken me a lot longer to pick it up after finishing the first novel. I was intrigued by the world and by one character in particular, but I was struggling to like Alina or to feel empathy for her. That all changed with the second novel however, and I think I’m in the minority when I say that the second novel was so much better than the first one for me! Finally, FINALLY, Alina starts to get a sense of direction and purpose, and she has a clear vision for what she hopes to accomplish in Ravka. More importantly, she decides to go after that vision and future, and she becomes defiant in the face of obstacles, and is noticeably more strong-willed. Although she has her internal doubts and fears, as a reader we are called to sympathize with her difficult position of power, and Alina seems much more developed and intricate than she did in the first novel. She also begins to realize that her power is a huge responsibility, and this begins to affect her relationship with Mal in complex ways that are surprising and welcomed. Alina becomes much more of a force to be reckoned with in the second novel, and this continues into the third when she truly comes into her own, begins to hone her powers and becomes a real adversary for The Darkling, who has otherwise commanded and overpowered her at every measure.

Seeing Alina grow into a strong female character is very gratifying, and it also opens her up to have some very interesting interactions with male characters that I found altogether MUCH more complex than Mal. These two male characters, and the way they challenge Alina, were the highlight of the series for me. The first of these characters is Nikolai “Sturmhond” Lantsov, a prince turned pirate (or, in his words, “privateer”) who seeks to take over the throne of Ravka from his ailing father. Nikolai is truly unlike any character I’ve encountered in a long time – he is cocky, over-the-top and witty, and he reminded me in many ways of Henry Higgins with his sharp tongue and unruffled demeanour. He challenges Alina to help him bring peace to Ravka, and their fast repartee is one of the elements of the second and third novels that really stuck out to me. Nikolai is not weak or soft-spoken, and so he forces Alina to use language as a weapon. He teaches her so much about how to be a ruler and what her obligations are, and their relationship is heated and sensual in ways that shock and test Alina.

Despite Nikolai’s strong presence, there is no character in the Grisha Trilogy quite like The Darkling, a “man” who is at once ultimate foe and forever friend. His literally physical as well as emotional connection to Alina is the crux of the entire series: will Alina submit to her powers and join forces with the Grisha whose powers complete hers, or will she choose peace over tyranny? The Darkling is such a complex character in that he is intoxicating but also dangerous. Everything about him draws Alina, and the reader, in and yet there is a latent insanity and desperation to him that is terrifying. The strongest scenes of the entire series, in my opinion, are those when The Darkling and Alina visit each other through their complicated bond – their conversations and interactions in these scenes are fiery and flirtatious, but there is also so much that is alluded to and so many layers of personality that they each peel off of each other. Alina’s powers make her thirsty and hungry for control and dominance, and it is The Darkling who perhaps sees her most clearly, for who she truly is, and encourages her to embrace the fact that she is unlike any other Grisha in history. Although he is a villain in many senses, he is also the only character to let Alina be free in the sense of allowing her to fully use and exercise her powers. This fact is paradoxical because in trying to set Alina free in this way, The Darkling must capture her – to fully give into her powers and abilities, Alina must submit to The Darkling’s master plan for Ravka, which is much less peaceful and inclusive than she would hope. The series becomes all the more complicated as Alina struggles with her inherent desire to be with The Darkling and her simultaneous fear of him, and it is very engrossing to watch this struggle play out as Alina herself becomes more self-assured.

Overall, I would highly recommend this series, as it became much better as it progressed. I always appreciate when a series is not just a series for the sake of it, when the second and third installments are meaningful and add something to the fictional world that would otherwise be lacking. This is definitely the case for the Grisha Trilogy, and while it is not my favourite trilogy that I’ve read this year, it is still certainly a fun ride! If fantasy novels are meant to be an escape, then this is the quintessential fantasy series, and the ending of the final novel was satisfying and utterly rewarding!

A few of my favourite quotes from the novels…

“The thought filled me with grief, grief for the dreams we’d shared, for the love I’d felt, for the hopeful girl I would never be again. That grief flooded through me, dissolving a knot that I hadn’t known was there….I’m sorry I left you so long in the dark. I’m sorry, but I’m ready now.

“‘I love you, Alina, even the part of you that loved him.’”

~ Shadow and Bone

“‘I’m not going to apologize for being ambitious. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m the best man for the job.’”

“‘I’m not a symbol…And I’m tired of being used as a pawn.’”

Stop it…You’re not some scared little girl anymore, shaking in her army-issue boots. You’re a Grisha, the Sun Summoner.

“‘I have loved you all my life, Mal…There is no end to our story.’”

~ Siege and Storm

“‘For all my talk of vows and honor, what I really want is to put you up against that wall and kiss you until you forget you ever knew another man’s name. So tell me to go, Alina. Because I can’t give you a title or an army or any of the things you need.’”

“‘He watches her the way Harshaw watches fire. Like he’ll never have enough of her. Like he’s trying to capture what he can before she’s gone.’”

“‘You are all I’ve ever wanted…You are the whole of my heart.’”

~ Ruin and Rising

  • Shadow and Bone ~ ❥❥❥❥
  • Siege and Storm ~ ❥❥❥❥❥
  • Ruin and Rising ~ ❥❥❥❥❥
  • The Grisha Trilogy (overall) ~ ❥❥❥❥.5

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Anna and the French Kiss – #JNGReads

Anna and the French Kiss is a novel that I wish I wasn’t conflicted about… But, I am.

I wanted desperately to give this young adult novel by Stephanie Perkins a rave review, and I honestly feel guilty about the review I’m about to write. I am definitely in the minority with my feelings about this story, and that is something that really surprised and disappointed me.

Okay, let’s start with the good… (As a general rule, I like to say at least a few good things about a novel to start a review, unless it made me royally angry and annoyed, which this one did not.)

Paris.

That’s the really good about this novel. I’ve been to Paris and, like most human beings on this planet, I fell in love with it, so it was really lovely to read a story almost entirely set in Paris. I was excited to be able to picture the monuments, as well as the more quiet streets, and since I’ve been studying French since I was in the first grade, I did find it enjoyable to read about Anna’s experiences at a school in France and her process of becoming acclimatized to the language and culture. So, yeah, Paris was a good and smart locale for this story because it added to the overall ambiance of the tale.

Other than that though…well, honestly, without Paris, I feel like Anna and the French Kiss would’ve been a novel about nothing. If it had taken place in a more familiar, western setting, there would’ve been absolutely nothing interesting, unique or exciting about it. Don’t get me wrong, the novel was very cute – it was fluffy and light and airy. Those are adjectives that I think are ideal for a book that you choose to read when you’re in grade 8, but I think that, in this case, the story was too simplistic for the audience it attempted to target. The main character, Anna, and her friends are in their last year of high school, so around 17 to 18 years of age. I, personally, cannot picture a 17 or 18 year old reading this book and enjoying it. I know several readers who reviewed the novel on Goodreads were much older and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wonder if that is because they are viewing it with the lens of adulthood and are perhaps being a touch sentimental. Like I said, it is an adorable story in many ways, but it is also a bit young. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was too old to be reading a young adult novel, and that saddened me. For the most part, I think young adult novels can be very mature and edgy (I’m thinking of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, which I read recently and which truly taught me lessons and changed my perspective on many very adult issues), but I found Anna and the French Kiss to be juvenile and soft rather than sophisticated and hard-hitting.

I think that both too much and not enough of the novel focused on Anna’s crush on Étienne St. Clair. That really does seem like a massive contradiction, but I’ll try to explain: Anna spends a lot of time crushing on St. Clair, but she also spends a lot of time denying her feelings and trying to ignore them, and he spends a lot of time in another relationship that prevents him from even admitting his feelings to Anna, and vice versa. Although Anna narrates her time in class, some of her day trips with her friends, and how hot and endearing St. Clair is, other than that, nothing much happens in the novel and nothing much happens between Anna and St. Clair. For a novel branded as a romance (right down to the title), not a lot of actual romance happens and most of the novel is spent building towards a relationship that unfortunately doesn’t come across as that desirable or exciting anyway. I found myself not even really caring if Anna and St. Clair got together in the end, which I think is a sure sign that a romance novel has not done its job well enough. By three quarters of the way into the story, I was still wondering when the romance would start!

Even the conflicts, like Anna’s fight with her best friend Bridgette and St. Clair’s girlfriend situation, are glossed over for the most part and as readers, we never get to dig down into the root of any of these problems because our narrator, Anna, never does either. I’ve read some reviews where readers say they think that Anna is stupid as a character, but I wouldn’t go that far – on the contrary, I think that she’s smart enough to realize what her feelings are, but she’s just too lazy, both to investigate them and to express these emotions to her audience. Instead, she states what is running through her mind, flitting from one idea to the next in rapid succession, which makes it very hard to keep up with and keep track of her.  She comes across as very wishy-washy and flat, and so does the story overall, mainly because there is no profound climax and because, basically, barely anything happens.

Now, as for Étienne St. Clair… I’ve read a lot of reviews where readers say they are absolutely in love with him and I am wholeheartedly confused as to why! He’s…sweet? I mean, okay, he’s not that sweet because he does have a girlfriend for most of the novel and yet he clearly still likes Anna as well and is giving her mixed signals. Having said that, he is very clearly a good guy, both when it comes to being a friend and being a son to his mother who is battling cancer. My favourite part of the entire novel was probably the emails that he and Anna exchange over their Christmas break – their back and forth was really adorable and somewhat flirtatious in this part, and I definitely got a sense that they were becoming best friends. That’s a lovely thing to behold in any relationship. But, when Anna returns home and reveals that she is heartstoppingly in love with him (she actually nearly falls down in the middle of a café just at the sight of him, which seemed a little melodramatic to me!), I was confused as to why. Sure, he’s attractive and he occasionally says things to Anna that make her feel attractive and confident, but they honestly don’t even speak all that much, and when they do, they talk about nothing. They go to the movies together, visit historical sites in Paris, and yet there’s no charged banter between them, no chemistry, no zing. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I wasn’t reading between the lines enough, I don’t know, but I just didn’t get a fire or a spark from Anna and St. Clair, and that is what disappointed me about the novel more than anything.

I think this is probably an ideal read for students in grade 9. Sure, there are some mature themes, but they aren’t really explored in too much detail and there isn’t anything graphic or too adult about this novel. I don’t think I can see an older audience, like students in grade 11 and 12, loving it because there just wasn’t enough to it, but a younger reader might like it as a nice introduction to some of the more sophisticated and mature young adult novels that are out there.

This is a really hard rating to give and I feel awful about it, but here we are…

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Before I Fall – #JNGReads

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is probably one of the best young adult novels I have ever read.

I should qualify this statement by saying that I am very versed in the young adult genre. I’ve enjoyed reading young adult novels since high school, and even though I am really no longer a young adult by any standards, I still find novels geared at teenagers to be quick and enjoyable reads. For the most part, I’ve mainly encountered young adult novels that are light, airy and fun, but there have been those novels every now and then that blew me out of the water with how provocative they were (How To Love by Katie Cotugno, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld immediately come to mind, but there are many others of course).

Before I Fall has to be one of the hardest hitting young adult novels I’ve ever read, if not the hardest. One thing I have to say is that I was supremely lucky in that I was never bullied in high school. I wasn’t exactly popular and didn’t go to all the crazy parties, mainly because I was studious and more academically inclined, but I had a lot of acquaintances and many friends, several of whom I’ve held onto in my adulthood. I was also most certainly not a “mean girl”, and I never bullied anyone else, so I knew that Before I Fall would fascinate me because it would allow me to get into the head of the type of girl I never was in high school. And, I have to say, what I liked best about the novel was how vivid Sam’s first-person narration was. I truly felt as though I was inhabiting her mind and watching it process everything she was going through in real-time, and I think Oliver mastered Sam’s voice and made it very distinct and unique.

What was most breathtaking (and mostly in the sense of leaving the reader shocked) was how detailed Oliver’s descriptions of the actions of Sam and her friends was. Oliver picks apart every nuance of their “mean girl” personalities, and she provides the reader with just enough of a backstory for each of them to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. These characters left me very conflicted, and that was mainly because I knew so much about their troubled family and home lives, and could see firsthand how insecure and uncertain each of them were. Although it would’ve been easy, as a reader observing from an outside perspective, to hate Ally, Elody and especially Lindsay, it was hard to do so because I was so absorbed in Sam’s mind and her feelings for her three best friends seemed to stem from such a genuine place. I should explain – while I am absolutely not the type of person who could be best friends with a girl like Lindsay who would spread rumours about other students and ridicule them to the point of dangerous consequences, I somewhat began to understand why Sam was so close to her and loved her so dearly. Many of Lindsay’s actions are disgusting and reprehensible, but we are also given these wonderful descriptions of the moments when her and Sam are bonding like two average 17 year old girls, and it’s almost heartbreaking because it’s impossible to blame Sam for loving her best friend. She has grown up with her, and although she realizes throughout her journey in the novel that Lindsay is flawed beyond measure, she still can’t shake this connection to her. It’s sad in so many ways, but it’s also uplifting to watch Sam try to help Lindsay become a better person. I wish Sam had done more of that in the novel, but I also enjoyed watching Sam rediscover herself, and I don’t think I would change the moments of Sam’s internal healing for more moments of her with her friends in the end.

The main reason I picked up Before I Fall is that I saw the trailer for the soon to be released movie adaptation. It reminded me in many ways, probably due to the premise, of the film If I Stay, based on the novel of the same name. I didn’t get a chance to read If I Stay before seeing the movie, which I enjoyed very much, and I didn’t want to miss out on reading Before I Fall. When I found the book in the 40% Off Bestsellers section at my local supermarket, I mean, I couldn’t resist. I am very happy that I picked it up because I believe it is a book that undoubtedly needs to be read by as many young adults as possible. Hopefully more people who have read it, and those who see the movie, will spread the word because the approach Oliver takes to tackling the subject of bullying is extremely valuable in our day and age. There are far too many teenagers out there who are lost and crippled by self-consciousness and anxiety, and Oliver’s novel not only offers glimpses into the lives of these individuals, but also delves deeply into the thought process of the people who ostracize them. It really made me sick in many parts to read what Sam and her friends do to their fellow students, and it quite frankly shocked me to think that these are things that happen in schools everywhere. It’s simply revolting and it needs to stop, and I think that literature has the capacity to change society if enough people pay attention to and learn from it. There is much to be learned from Before I Fall and I would maybe even go so far as to say that it should be included as mandatory reading in grade 9 English classes.

The best word to describe Before I Fall, I think, would be haunting. It really does get under your skin, and you start to feel for the characters in ways you never expected. I highly recommend it to any young adults, and to parents of young adults, for that matter – there is so much to learn from the story!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Holmesian

I’m now finished reading my first non-Charlotte Brontë related novel of recent weeks. Ironically enough, it’s called A Study in Charlotte and is by Brittany Cavallaro, an author I’ve never encountered. It has nothing at all to do with Charlotte Brontë though – the Charlotte in this case is Charlotte Holmes, a descendant of that venerable and brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes. In this modern adaptation of a combination of many of the great adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte teams up with the narrator and descendant of Dr. Watson, James Holmes. All I have to say about this novel is that it was such fun!

But honestly, I enjoyed this book thoroughly and I finished it within 3 days because it was light and easy and fast-paced. I haven’t read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the original Holmes and Watson, so I’m no expert on the works, but like so many people today, I adore the BBC version of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and I’m always open to a modern take on a classic.

Cavallaro’s story is different in that it turns Sherlock into a girl, makes the two main protagonists teenagers, and gives their relationship a bit more romantic electricity. While I think this made the novel more juvenile and took away from the potential for maturity and sophistication a bit, I admit that it was very easy for me to become interested in Holmes and Watson’s camaraderie and budding relationship (both professional and otherwise). I’ve also always enjoyed the mystery genre (I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a child and I spent hours inventing my own crimes and mysteries to solve, with my trusty notebook and spectacles!), and although aspects of this story were predictable, as I said, I finished it quickly and that’s testament to the fact that it was entertaining.

I also truly enjoyed Cavallaro’s use of a male narrator – James Watson is very endearing, and he comes across as intelligent, considerate, thoughtful and very caring. I enjoyed following the tale he told and created and I was eager to get back to his story because of how genuine his manner of telling it seemed. In the Epilogue, when the voice switches to Charlotte’s, I did notice a clear distinction between the tones and styles, and I did think Charlotte’s more logical, precise and scientific voice suited her character. She’s harsh and hard at times, but I did grow fond of her relationship with Jamie in the end.

The only aspect of the novel that I struggled with is its classification. I cannot decide if it’s a young adult novel and what age category it is targeted towards. Obviously, Charlotte and Jamie being teenagers suggests that it’s best suited to that age group; however, the story does deal with mature themes (such as drugs and sex and violence) in very explicit detail, so I think older teens are the correct demographic. I don’t think I’d want my 13 or 14 year old reading this story, but someone around the age of 16 or 17 would probably be able to deal with the mature subject matter. I think it’s a little too simplistic for most adult readers to be totally content with, but I enjoy a good YA novel every now and then, and A Study in Charlotte really is a good one!

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this novel to anyone looking for a quick summer/beach read. It’s not difficult or dense, and it provides the right amount of entertainment and intrigue to fill a summer vacation! Although I won’t be ranting and raving about it for weeks to come, I enjoyed the time I spent reading it!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Power – #JNGWatches

Ahh, being off work during the holiday season has to be the most marvelous, glorious thing in the whole wide world! Having more than a week off is allowing me to do so many things I’ve been dying to do for months, like writing more blog posts (see how this is my second one in 2 days?!), catching up on reading the excellent Victorian novel, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, that I’m currently obsessed with (review forthcoming), AND watching a whole bunch of movies that I’ve been eager to see!

One of these movies is the one that I just finished watching, Insurgent. (Sidenote: I’m writing this post at 9:30pm on Monday night, but I’ll be making it live sometime tomorrow/Tuesday.) It is the second movie in The Divergent Series, and I must’ve seen the first movie ages ago, but I have been super excited to see this sequel ever since. I have to preface this review by stating that I have not read any of the Divergent novels by Veronica Roth – and, unfortunately, I don’t intend to. This isn’t because I don’t find the story or the characters interesting – on the contrary, as I’m about to describe, I actually find the plot so so engrossing (it calls back to one of the first “real/adult” novels I ever read, 1984 by George Orwell), and Tris is such an inspiring and unique character. I just find it EXTREMELY difficult to read a novel once I’ve already seen the film adaptation of that same story. The only time I ever tried doing this was with Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, let me tell you, it was a mistake! I could not get the image of the iconic Audrey Hepburn out of my mind the entire time I was reading the novella, even though Capote’s description of Holly Golightly is hardly like Hepburn at all. It was just far too difficult to get into the novella and properly accept and interpret everything its author had intended, and so I vowed to never “ruin” a novel again by reading it after seeing a film version of it. I’ve stayed true to my word ever since.

I also feel that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a story in film form for what it is, without feeling the urge to go back to the original story. There’s no reason why I can’t thoroughly enjoy the Divergent films without having read the novels, and sometimes I feel like this focus on viewing a film as a film, rather than as an adaptation of a written work, allows me to appreciate the film more without having high and unrealistic expectations. So, I’m happy to leave my experience of The Divergent Series to a cinematographic one.

Having said that, I really enjoyed Insurgent. Like I said, I saw Divergent a long time ago, so I can’t properly review it now, but I remember really enjoying it as well, which is why I was so excited to see Insurgent (and why I’m so eager to go watch the Allegiant trailer, which I just now found out exists!). Insurgent delivered on the high level of action and intensity I was expecting, and I found myself getting easily sucked into the story. I loved all the different fighting sequences, and I found the various simulations that Tris goes through super interesting and true to the character traits they were meant to convey. I found the entire story very engrossing and I had a fun time watching the movie.

What stuck out to me most, however, was just how strong and powerful Tris is. I haven’t seen any of The Hunger Games movies or read the books, so I don’t have any experience with that franchise – so when I say that Tris is the strongest female character I have come across in a young adult story in a very long time, I mean it. She is absolutely fierce, and I love it! In high school, I was a big fan of the Twilight series of books and movies (Kristen Stewart = definite girl crush = hugely unpopular opinion that I am NOT ashamed of in the least) – but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t often seriously annoyed by Bella Swan’s lack of confidence and strength. There were so many moments when I wanted Bella to stand up and fight for herself, and it made me really angry when I thought that she was being too weak and falling apart over a guy or a ridiculous situation that she easily could have stood up against. Not to criticize another young adult franchise, but I have to say that Tris is miles ahead of Bella in so many ways, and it is very refreshing to see a young woman who is powerful and who is not afraid of her powers. Tris embraces her strength and she never backs down – she is the one who “saves” the men in her life, and she gets the job done herself, without fear or hesitation. She is an incredibly brave character, and that’s something that I seriously appreciate. I think that society has come a long way, and I’m proud that young women are able to get to know female characters who accurately reflect the strong, capable women that already exist in the real world. And, of course, as a lover of the Victorian novel, I’m happy that these heroines of the young adult genre are starting to emulate some of my feistier friends like Jane Eyre, Margaret Hale and Elizabeth Bennet, those women who defied their 19th century society by speaking up and forcefully voicing their opinions. I highly recommend Insurgent as a movie that viewers of all ages can enjoy – but, if I was a mother, I would definitely be showing it to all of my kids, male and female, to encourage them to be as confident in their own abilities as Tris is!

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about a movie adaptation here on the blog, but when I did so most recently (in my blog post about the James Bond franchise), I mentioned that I was struggling with a way to tag any quotes I decided to post on my Twitter page from movies. Obviously, I couldn’t use the #JNGReads tag for these quotes, but I also didn’t think it made sense to use the #JNGListens tag either, which is more aligned with lyrics from music pieces. So, I’ve finally decided that, to get around this problem, I am going to introduce a new tag to the mix: #JNGWatches. I watch enough movies and TV shows that I think I will have a good number of quotes I want to share, and what better time than the (almost) New Year to make another subtle change to the blog?!

Thanks again Everyone for taking the time to visit me here!

🙂

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

What I Loved – #JNGReads

Hello again Dear Readers, and Happy Sunday to you all!

I’ve finally finished Katie Cotugno’s “young adult” novel How To Love, and it’s time for a little rave fest! I put the term “young adult” in quotations because I actually think Cotugno’s novel is written like a more adult piece of fiction, and I immediately passed it off to my mother after finishing it because I know she will absolutely love it! It is a mature novel, its themes and ideas are sophisticatedly articulated, and I think that for a young adult novel, it tackles a lot of serious issues with depth and remarkable insight. I’m a huge fan of the young adult fiction genre, even now into my twenties, but I will admit that you can often tell when a book is written for a younger audience because of its style and the way the prose is constructed. I definitely could NOT tell that How To Love was intended for a teenaged audience, though, because it is written in a more poignant manner than most of the works of adult fiction I’ve read recently…but more on this in a second.

I have to start by saying that the premise of the novel is not altogether extraordinary – it’s about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant and must raise her child alone. This sort of storyline is relatively common (we’ve all seen it played out in movies and TV shows numerous times), so Reena’s story and her troubled relationship with her baby’s father, Sawyer LeGrande, is not something ridiculously unique. The true power of How To Love comes instead from how it is written, from how Reena’s narrative voice functions and how creative her manner of speech and thought is.

I adore words! That much is probably obvious from the fact that I’ve created a blog about books. But what I love most about words is when they are used in an unexpected manner…when they are combined in ways that the reader wouldn’t have thought of or wouldn’t have encountered before. That’s what I enjoyed most about How To Love – so many of the descriptions Cotugno provides, through Reena’s narrative voice, are unlike any descriptions I’ve ever encountered. If you take a look back on my Twitter page, you’ll find some of these very descriptions. Furthermore, when Cotugno discusses a sentiment or an idea that is more common, she does so with such eloquence, and her prose is so beautifully shaped and paced. For example, here are some quotes from my #JNGReads posts for this week which illustrate how graceful Cotugno’s writing style is:

“like something I’d lived near all my life but never tried.”

“‘I like him so stupidly much.’”

“I loved how I was still, every day, learning him.” – How To Love, Katie Cotugno

Yes, some of these passages describe feelings that aren’t necessarily out of this world or surprising, but I find that the way Cotugno allows her character Reena to express her feelings so explicitly and with such heart truly inspiring. I’d like to be the kind of author who is constantly finding new ways to portray age-old ideas – and I think Cotugno does just that.

I would definitely recommend this novel to just about anyone. It left an impression on me, and I was eager to read it and return to the lovely prose as often as possible!

Sidenote: The countdown to my Disney World adventure is on – 6 more days until my family and I leave! Check out my Twitter page all this week for tons of Disney quotes! I’m getting sooo excited!

Have a great Sunday Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart