2 Mini-Reviews and an Update ~ #JNGReads …and reads…and reads!

Hello dear Readers and welcome to a midweek mini-update!

Remember when I wrote that post a short while ago, outlining the books I wanted to read to finish off 2017? Well, it turns out, I’m a faster reader than I thought because I blasted through the Six of Crows duology and found that, if I stuck to the reading plan as it was, I would be finished all of the books I wanted to read well before the end of December. While this would normally be a good thing because I could pick up some additional novels toward the end of the year and into 2018, I desperately want to finish my year with a re-read of Jane Eyre. I want to be reading that beloved favourite of mine when I get married (on December 22nd, specifically), and it only makes sense to position Jane Steele and Mr. Rochester just before that. So, with that particular plan for the very end of the year in mind, I decided last week to insert a few short, lighter reads into my plan before I reach the Jane Eyre-themed end of 2017.

I began by picking up two books that have been on my To-Read List for quite some time and that, fortunately for my plan, only took me a handful of days each to finish. With that being said, though, I didn’t have too much to say about either of them in terms of a proper review, so I decided to combine my thoughts on them into one post here on the blog. Below, you’ll find these reviews…and look for many more reviews coming as 2017 winds to a close!

Unfiltered by Lily Collins

Below is a review I posted on Goodreads for the non-fiction book Unfiltered by actress Lily Collins. I didn’t have much to say about the collection of essays, which I finished in 2 days’ time, so I did not feel it warranted its own blog post…

I don’t have too much to say about Unfiltered so I will keep my comments brief, as I am rather ambivalent about it.

This collection of essays by actress Lily Collins is fun and light, which is both a compliment and a criticism. I believe that its style is very accessible, particularly for readers in the young adult category. However, Collins does attempt to write about some important subject matter, such as her struggles with anorexia and bulimia and her experiences in an abusive relationship, and I felt that in these specific essays, she failed to dig as deeply as she could have. The book is replete with platitudes but there aren’t any really profound conclusions or morals to be drawn from it. Collins does a good job of presenting herself as just like any one of us, but that is mainly because she doesn’t give enough specifics about her personal struggles for the reader to feel like they truly understand her. I was a bit disappointed in that sense because I expected to learn new things about her as a person, but I found that I did not. I also wasn’t fond of the humble brags that seemed to abound in the text, and while I enjoy Collins’ acting and think she’s very beautiful, it annoyed me slightly that she professed to be amazing at so many different things, such as journalism and cooking. It was all a bit much for my liking, and although I’m sure she’s very talented at many things, I felt that her overt discussion of it distanced me from her and made it so that she wasn’t believable as the girl next door.

That being said, I enjoyed the collection well enough, and the pictures added a nice layer of intimacy to the text. It isn’t a masterpiece by any standards, but I think it would prove to be an enjoyable read for younger fans of Lily Collins, especially because she writes with a simplistic style and addresses a younger audience (rather than one that is closer to her own age of 28).

Overall, pleasant enough and a quick, easy read!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

I am a huge fan of Madeleine Wickham…or rather, I should say that I am a huge fan of her when she writes under her pen name, Sophie Kinsella. That’s right, the author of this little known chick lit. novel is in fact the hugely famous writer of the Shopaholic series, among other awesome stories (shout out to I’ve Got Your Number, my personal favourite!). Although I’ve read almost all of Kinsella’s novels, I had never picked up one of Wickham’s, until a few days ago.

I’ve owned Cocktails for Three for about three years now, since I picked it up at a used book sale. It sat on my bookshelf for all this time because I just never felt in the mood for it, having heard mixed reviews about the stories Kinsella writes under her real name. I always opted to read a “proper” Kinsella novel, rather than delving into Cocktails for Three, and I only picked up this novel this week because I wanted a quick read that I would be done with rapidly.

Well, Cocktails for Three is certainly a quick read, but it is also one that has left me conflicted. I both enjoyed it and found it very slow, and I couldn’t reconcile the fact that Wickham is Kinsella, and vice versa, because the tones and styles of their novels are just so different. Kinsella’s novels are effortlessly hilarious, replete with over-the-top but endearing characters whose dramatic lives still somehow seem to be relatable to the reader. Cocktails for Three is perhaps even more relatable in the sense that the characters are very average and every day, but for some reason, I just couldn’t make myself like any of the three main characters, Candice, Maggie and Roxanne. It wasn’t until about two thirds into the novel that I even enjoyed it at all, and I felt myself wavering between being excited by the story and feeling helplessly bored by it.

I think, as I just mentioned, my main reason for struggling with Cocktails for Three is that I didn’t find any of the female leads likable. They each have these flaws that are extremely difficult to look past and which I found pretty annoying: Candice is ridiculously naïve and innocent, to the point of making me want to slap her; Maggie is so unprepared for motherhood that she seems not to think it bad to drink or be around cigarette smoke while pregnant; and Roxanne is in the midst of a 6 year long affair with a married man, which is a story arc that has always rubbed me the wrong way, since I first began reading chick lit. I admit that, as I got halfway into the novel, I started to warm up to the three characters, but I still found it hard to ignore Roxanne’s immorality, Candice’s ignorance and Maggie’s selfishness. What’s more, there wasn’t really anything romantic about this novel, and while not every novel has to be a romance of course, I’ve grown so accustomed to how artfully Kinsella writes romance that it made me kind of sad to read a novel of hers that was love-free.

With all that said, somehow, I look back on the novel now and I feel like I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a favourite by any means, but I do have to admit that it breaks the chick lit. mold and doesn’t rely on stereotypes or clichés. I appreciate that, and while I didn’t love the story or the characters, I found the novel interesting enough and was overall happy and occupied while reading it.

This is certainly a hard one to rate… I think I’ll definitely give another novel by Wickham a chance in the future, to see if they all adhere to this slightly different style…but I probably will pick up another Kinsella novel first!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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

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

My Victorian Condition ~ A Life Talk

I could never be a Victorian.

Isn’t that ironic? How many times have I mentioned here (and in my life in general) that I would love to have lived in the Victorian era? I mean, for god sake, my bio on the side of this very blog’s homepage professes…

~ I would trade this life for a Victorian life in a heartbeat. ~

But, it has come to my attention recently that there is no way I would survive a Victorian life…and it has everything to do with one tiny thing I have been carrying around for my entire life. My anxiety. Now, I know there’s a stigma about mental health issues, which is definitely going away slowly, but is still pretty prevalent in society. Not many people feel comfortable about discussing their mental health struggles, and honestly, I’ve always sort of been one of those people. I talk very openly about my anxiety with my close friends, my immediate family and my fiancé, but it’s not something I’m exactly eager to shout from the rooftops. I’d like for the people I work with not to have any clues about it. I never revealed it to any of my classmates or my professors. I just always felt that it was the sort of thing that needed to be kept silent, or at least not have attention drawn to.

I’m very lucky because my anxiety is not debilitating and, to be honest, I’ve never had it diagnosed. But believe me when I say that I know I suffer from anxiety because I have read enough about it and seen enough examples of it in my life to know what it looks like. Although it is most certainly a different experience for each and every person, I have witnessed enough different forms of anxiety to know that my nerves and worries are more severe than most other peoples’. And perhaps I should feel shy about writing this post (even know, as I write it, I wonder if I will ever actually post it on my blog), but part of me just wants to write about my personal experiences, not only to get them out there for others who may be struggling, but also to help sort through them myself. Writing has always been a cathartic and therapeutic pastime for me, and so it seems like the best method to unravel my anxieties and get to the root of them.

My anxiety manifests itself as a preoccupation with things that are unlikely and illogical, but terrifying. I become fixated on one idea, one fear or source of nervousness, and I find it hard to stop my fixation and rumination on this notion until another one slips in to replace it. Don’t get me wrong, I have good periods when I’m not that consciously anxious about anything in particular, but at any given moment, if I sit down and think long enough, I will be able to pinpoint one or two things to be nervous about. As I said, these things are often totally outlandish and ridiculous, and yet I latch onto that slim chance that it may happen and sometimes make myself sick at the thought. I am getting better at realizing that my anxieties have no actual basis in reality, but that doesn’t mean that I’m able to overcome them entirely. I may never be able to do that, and I am strangely okay with that…I know that anxiety will be a part of who I am forever, and I also know that it will be one of the biggest things in my life that makes me strong and resilient. I try as much as I can to use my anxiety to my advantage, to try to become a stronger person because of it, as hard as that may often be. It has made me resourceful and driven to persevere and not let it stop me.

My anxiety is also always worse in times when I am incandescently and extremely happy. For whatever reason, it seems like, whenever I am most content and confident, my anxiety kicks in and reminds me that everything can disappear in a flash. It’s the ultimate manifestation of the “glass half empty” mentality…my anxiety is constantly there to encourage me to be prepared to lose everyone and everything, to make me believe that happiness is fleeting and fragile. These are the points when my anxiety is most exhausting, because I am most frustrated with myself. These are also the times, though, when I feel most compelled to work on my anxiety, to try to combat it by being even more joyous and ignoring the tiny voice inside me that warns me to be pessimistic. It is at these moments that I get fed up with myself and my overactive brain and try to live fearlessly and boldly!

Recently, however, it came to my attention that 3 of my biggest most all-encompassing anxieties would absolutely prevent me from living the life I have always professed to want. Ever since I was young, but definitely more so now that I have moved out to my own home, I have been predominantly anxious about 3 things: fire, lice and bed bugs. I think that most people would be afraid of these 3 things and the inconveniences they cause, but my anxiety will go to the point of exhaustion, where I am checking my hair every night, or pulling my bed apart to get at my mattress, or feeling terrible nerves whenever I am out even though I checked that the oven was off 3 times before leaving. It does tire me out, no question, to have these 3 worries constantly at the back of my mind, and I have actually gotten to the point in this fatigued state where I have almost broken down in tears after seeing a firetruck randomly drive in the vague direction of my home. Again, I think most, if not all, people would be terrified by the thought of enduring a fire or the inconvenience of having lice or bed bugs, but my anxiety causes me to take that fear to the extreme.

Which brings me to why I could never be a Victorian… It is a pretty widely known fact that the 3 most prevalent issues in Victorian society were fire, lice and bed bugs. As coincidental as this may seem, I wonder if maybe my anxieties stemmed from reading and watching so many Victorian stories when I was growing up. In any case, it’s no shock to anyone to learn that a large part of London burnt down in 1666…although that was centuries before the Victorian era, fires were still a huge occurrence in Victorian England. And don’t even get me started on lice and bed bugs…it seems that almost every Victorian household had them, and I once read an article somewhere that suggested that at any given moment in Victorian society, 85% of children had head lice. I have to be frank, I didn’t want to do any research for this post as I wanted to speak of my own personal ideas more than anything else, so those statistics may be off. But there is no doubt that the things I fear on a regular basis were spreading rapidly during the Victorian era.

When my best friend, CV, mentioned to me that I could never live in the Victorian era because all of my greatest fears were a viable risk, I was immediately disappointed. Time machines don’t exist (just yet), so it wasn’t like I was exactly missing out on a trip to Victorian England…but at the same time, it felt like my anxiety was actively preventing me from doing something I had always wanted to do. Generally, I don’t let my anxiety get in my way, but here was an example of a limitation, a society I couldn’t have lived in comfortably no matter how much I love it and wish I could visit it. It was shocking, to say the least, to think that this lifestyle I put on such a pedestal was also one that would have terrified me on a daily basis…and it was eye opening. Anxiety should never ever prevent you from doing anything, and that is something that is not always easy to wrap your mind around when you’re having an anxiety attack or fixating on something. For me, it was helpful to have this reminder, to have a moment of clarity where I realized that these things I fear are things that other people have gone through and survived, and are things that don’t happen all that often in a time I am very fortunate to live in. It was an interesting source of perspective for me, a little extra jolt to try to force down my anxieties about these issues, to try to talk myself out of them and work through them.

I am and always will be a Victorianist, and it seems that my own particular Victorian condition is to be wary of the very same things that my Victorian counterparts and idols would have been concerned about. Whatever that says about my anxiety, it does remind me that there are certain things I will never be able to dodge or control, no matter what time I live in, and that it would not necessarily be simpler to live in what many people perceive as a simpler time. At the very least, I am reminded now, on a daily basis, that the people of the past had many more reasons to be afraid (by my standards, anyway), and yet they lived, they didn’t fear, they somehow managed to go up against greater risks than I face currently. So if Queen Victoria can be strong, surrounded by all her candles and gas lamps, why can’t I? I think I can, because I do, after all, have all those Victorian inclinations, both good and bad, way deep down inside me.

Janille N G

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

Wednesday Words ~ Spotlight on “Sunscreen”

Hello dear Readers and happy hump day!

We’re already at the middle of the week… Can you believe it?  I’m extremely grateful for the fact that this week seems to be flying by because there is just too much excitement in my life at the moment to sit at work all day!  I’m getting restless, to say the least.

Welcome to my first ever Wednesday Words post.  I’m not going to lie to you all and pretend that this sort of post is going to become a weekly thing here on the blog, because Lord knows that I find it hard to do weekly updates, what with being torn between reading and writing reviews for the 2.5 million books I have in my room.  Having said that, I was thinking that whenever I have a particular passage or quote or song lyric I’d like to share, I’m going to try to do it on a Wednesday (what can I say, I’m a fan of alliteration!) and go into greater depth analyzing the quote in detail.  So, look out for more Wednesday Words posts in the future (if not consistently)!

Today’s spotlight is on a song that I recently stumbled upon in this great Spotify playlist called “Your Favorite Coffeehouse”.  I’m new to Spotify – I have an iPod which I update regularly, so I never felt the need to use the Spotify app – and I am loving it!  Although my iPod is great for listening to music at the gym or on the subway, it doesn’t allow me to discover new music or artists, and I find it hard to listen to music for too long with headphones, so I wanted a means of listening to music out loud from my work computer.  Spotify allows me the perfect opportunity to do that, and I’ve already found a bunch of new songs that I am really fond of and would’ve never heard otherwise.  It also has some great playlist collections, like the Coffeehouse one which is absolutely brilliant, and I was able to save entire albums from artists I adore, like HAIM (Something To Tell You is THE album of the year, in my opinion) and Bruce Springsteen.  I swear, there is nothing Spotify doesn’t have and I love having all this music at my fingertips!

One of those amazing and new (to me) songs is called “Sunscreen” by Ira Wolf.  I have to admit, I know nothing about Ira Wolf.  Although I saved a bunch of her other songs on my Spotify account, I haven’t gotten around to listening to them just yet…because I have been listening to “Sunscreen” on repeat ever since I first heard it.  Honestly, I made a playlist called “On repeat…” with just this one song so that I can listen to it over and over, uninterrupted.  It is just the loveliest little song – so romantic and simple and easy to listen to that I can’t stop.  I latched onto the lyrics as soon as I heard them because they so eloquently and creatively emphasize the routine, mundane and simplistic aspects of love.  Love is about being accepted, of course, but also about having that companion who may be flawed but perfectly complements you in every way.  Love is about having someone with you for the everyday moments, for the little events and occurrences that no one else can possibly fathom or appreciate.  I think Ira Wolf hits the nail on the head with her lyrics about wanting someone to be there every single day, to support and guide her, and to put in that effort to be a true friend and lover.  The lyrics speak for themselves, so I am going to include them here and highlight the portions that touched me most profoundly.

“Sunscreen” is a beautiful song, a work of poetry put to music, and I sincerely encourage you all to have a listen!

Enjoy your Wednesday and look out for more song recommendations coming soon!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

*Note: This post was in no way sponsored by Spotify…trust me, I’m not enough of a music aficionado to have Spotify pay me any particular attention – haha!

Beyond Representation

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But, it isn’t worth a thousand feelings.

Yesterday was my bridal shower. Today I’m feeling melancholy, which is a sentiment I’ve very used to after big events. When I was a child, I used to cry after weddings or birthdays because I was so distraught over the thought that this huge occasion that I spent so much time looking forward to was over. I have that same feeling today. I didn’t plan any aspect of the shower – my amazing parents and my incredible Man of Honour, my brother, took care of everything – but I knew that it was going to be an awesome day, and although I tried my very hardest to soak up every single moment, today I’m left with the sensation that it passed me by too quickly. I know the wedding (less than 3 months away now!) will pass in much the same way and the thought terrifies me. I’m trying to figure out ways to really focus on how I feel in my dress, on how wonderful it is to have my best friends and closest family around me, on how remarkable it is that such a good and kind man has chosen to make me his wife…but I already know that so many of the little moments will go unnoticed.

I just wish a photo could capture a feeling, or transport you back in time. I have no doubt whatsoever that our talented wedding photographer is going to get some perfect snaps of the day and each special moment, but when I look at those photos months or even years later, won’t my memory of the moment still be hazy? Will I ever be able to get the exact feelings back? Probably not. I know this because yesterday, I tried so hard to take one photo that would capture exactly how excited and loved and supported I felt on my bridal shower day, and all I got was this…

Although it’s an okay photo and reflects the room where we had afternoon tea, at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, quite well, it still doesn’t capture my overwhelming emotions. At the moment when I took the photo, I was alone in the high tea room, music from the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack playing around me, and I was just quietly reflecting on the fact that so many people loved me enough to celebrate my upcoming wedding with me…and also that one man loved me enough to want to give me this absolute dream life. And yet, when I look at this photo now, it just seems so inadequate. It shows a very happy girl in a beautiful place…but it can never show just how happy she is or how beautiful her life has become.

What’s worse is that this is the only photo I took the entire day. Of course, my bridesmaids took some wonderful photos and my family members and friends are excitedly posting photos on social media, but none of them are photos seen through my eyes. None of them reflect what I was thinking or feeling in that moment, and no photo is really powerful enough to do that anyway.

As I wrote in my Instagram post when I uploaded my lone bridal shower photo, the emotions I felt yesterday are beyond representation. The love I feel for my family members, my best friends and my fiancé is too big for this world, let alone a single photo or even a lengthy blog post. And, now that I think of it, I would rather be living in the moment, seeing the event through my own eyes rather than through the filter of a lens…so I have determined that if on the wedding day I don’t get a single photo, at least I can use my eyes and my green heart to try to soak up every last detail.

xox,

JNG

Girl with a Green (and Very Full) Heart