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

High Lady

High Lady

“Night Triumphant – and the Stars Eternal.” ~ A Court of Wings and Ruin Sometimes you get so obsessed with a book that it starts to slowly take over aspects of your entire life. Welcome to my world. These obsessions … Continue reading

It Happens All the Time ~ #JNGReads

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is a book that I don’t feel comfortable reviewing, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain…

Hatvany’s novel deals with such important topics as rape and mental health, and so it is very difficult to write a review of a story that tackles such deep and significant issues. In a similar vein to how I felt uncomfortable reviewing Thirteen Reasons Why, I feel that It Happens All the Time is the sort of novel that should not be reviewed or rigorously critiqued and should instead be read by all adults. It would be impossible for me to say which demographic I recommend it to, because I recommend it to all readers, young and old, male and female. It would be difficult to pull apart any elements of the novel, to break apart the traits and actions of the characters, because so much of the novel’s strength and poignancy comes from the fact that the characters are flawed (some much more than others), and that there are two sides to and different opinions about every story. It Happens All the Time is not the kind of novel that, in my opinion, can be reviewed for its plot devices or structure or style because everything pales in comparison to the subject matter it investigates and the insights it offers. It is a novel that should be on every reader’s bookshelf and that parents should be encouraging their children to read, once they reach an appropriate age. It is a story that needs to be told, and then discussed at length.

So, for those reasons, I find it hard to write a traditional review of Hatvany’s novel or give it a concrete rating. The novel was a very quick read for me, and I did struggle with connecting to certain characters, particularly Tyler, because I felt that the synopsis gave away some crucial details that ultimately clouded my opinions on the characters from page one. Having said that, I was moved by the story, I was shaken and rattled by it, especially in the most tragic chapters, and I was called to question my own beliefs and assumptions. That is the mark of a great novel, most certainly, and yet I can’t quantify this experience by giving it a number of stars (although I have, for the sake of the Goodreads system). As I said, this is a novel that must be read, and so it transcends the concepts of enjoyment and pleasure and achieves status as a novel that educates and inspires and makes readers better.

Furthermore, there are so many readers who could write better “reviews” of this novel than me, and many of them have. I was touched by so many of the comments I read on Goodreads about this novel, and they certainly opened my eyes to just how prevalent and relevant the subject matter of Hatvany’s story is. One review in particular really stuck with me though and my thoughts were drawn back to it in each moment I spent reading It Happens All the Time. This review was written by a Goodreads friend of mine, Chelsea Humphrey, and it was her honest, heartfelt and touching words that really pushed and persuaded me to pick up Hatvany’s novel as soon as I could. Chelsea’s review is, in every way, more thought-provoking than mine could ever be, and I believe that even those who haven’t read It Happens All the Time will take something away from her review (follow the link above or at the end of this post to visit Chelsea’s blog and read it). I suggest you all read her review, whether you intend to pick up the novel or not, because it is intensely meaningful and eye-opening!

On that note, I must say that my biggest source of hesitancy in writing a review for It Happens All the Time comes from the fact that I have never been in Amber’s position, I have never experienced the turmoil and pain she goes through. This is not to say that a reader must have personally experienced every aspect of a story in order to understand or enjoy it, but I do feel that in the case of topics such as rape, it is extremely difficult to fathom the circumstances and emotions surrounding them without having experienced them firsthand. I did absolutely feel empathy for Amber and tried my hardest to put myself in her shoes, but I understood my limitations, I accepted the fact that I will never ever be able to comprehend her anxieties and fears and depression without having lived them myself. I don’t feel comfortable at all pronouncing judgment on her actions or choices, because I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. I don’t feel that there’s any room for judgment in this novel whatsoever, for that reason, and I would find it impossible to contradict or criticize how the characters were portrayed because I have never been in their places. What I think is most thought-provoking and powerful about Hatvany’s description of both a rape survivor and her perpetrator is that each and every character is so human, so flawed and so realistic. There is no clear cut, neatly wrapped right or wrong, and every character exists in that gray area that we so often struggle with in real-life.

I don’t know if any of what I’ve said even makes sense, but I will try to sum up my jumbled thoughts as best I can. Read It Happens All the Time! Especially if you are someone who has never experienced the topics it investigates… Read It Happens All the Time! Have your parents read it, pass it along to your brothers and boyfriends, and encourage your children, both male and female, to read it when they reach an appropriate age. Give a copy to your best female friends, and to your best guy friends too, and start a conversation. Talk about what happens to Amber, and what happens to Tyler too, and even if your opinions vary or you can’t see eye to eye, discuss every nuance and detail and start the conversation. This is where Hatvany’s story will prove most significant: in the conversations between readers and their friends and family members. If each of us passes along our copy and challenges the person we’ve given it to to investigate their own assumptions and ideals, then we will be one step closer to making our world a safer place.

I highly recommend this one, to absolutely everyone!

Chelsea Humphrey’s review of It Happens All the Time, from her blog The Suspense Is Thrilling Me:

https://thesuspenseisthrillingme.com/2017/03/28/review-it-happens-all-the-time/

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Chat Love – #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

“‘You look good with my clothes on.’” ~ Jackson

(I just love how flirtatious that line is, so I had to quote it!  It reminded me so much of the scene in Roman Holiday when Gregory Peck tells Audrey Hepburn that she should always wear his pajamas, which is one of my favourite moments in romantic movie history.)

Chat Love by Justine Faeth is an adorable, light rom-com that I would highly recommend to hopeless romantics who are look for a summer read to take with them to the beach or on a vacation.  It is the sort of novel filled with delightful comedy, laugh out loud moments, and a wonderfully endearing main character, and it is the ideal book to have on your e-reader and whip out on a crowded subway or a long flight.

Chat Love follows protagonist Lucia Pia Fabbo as she navigates the world of online dating and struggles to find love at twenty-eight years old.  Lucia quickly learns that love isn’t always where one would expect to find it, and she is forced to open her mind and heart to new romantic possibilities and to an ideal partner that was staring her in the face all along.  Chat Love was reminiscent, for me, of those pleasant Hallmark movies you watch on a Saturday evening, with a hot tea or brimming glass of wine in hand, and I do actually think that Faeth’s writing style is very suited to film or television in that she writes scenes in a detailed style that makes them easy to visualize.  I would say that Lucia is just itching to come to life on the screen, and her life in New York with her three best friends and several male acquaintances is one that would easily make a cute sitcom or light romantic drama.

Other than just being an enjoyable and quick read, Chat Love also resonated with me on a few personal levels, and this made the story all the more realistic and relatable.  I never myself went online to find love, but I know several people personally who have tried out the online dating scene, to mixed success.  A few of my close friends have had frustrating and disappointing encounters with men through dating apps and websites, and reading about Lucia’s horrible and awkward dates had me laughing out loud at times.  It was all so similar to what my own friends have dealt with and griped to me about, and so I was not at all surprised to read about Lucia going out with men who only wanted to have sex with her, or men who skipped out on her, leaving her with massive bills, or even men who attempted to stalk and coddle her.  As a woman in her mid-twenties who only recently became involved in a serious relationship, I can truly understand the difficulties of finding a boyfriend and the exhaustion of constantly going on mediocre or (worse) awful dates, and I found myself becoming connected to Lucia as I sympathized with her experiences.  I think the most remarkable thing about Lucia’s romantic journey is that love ends up being right in front of her all along (in the interest of not spoiling the plot, I won’t go into too much detail about this), and this fact reminded me of times that I have urged my friends to be open-minded, to give men a shot even if they are uncertain about their feelings at first.  I am adamant about giving everyone a chance and being open to romantic surprises, and I appreciated that Lucia was the type of character that didn’t stick to a list of desired qualities or this idealized image of the perfect man that most likely doesn’t exist.  She was eager to give every man she met a chance, and that is an important lesson that I believe every single woman (or man) can certainly learn from.

I also found the most delightful part of Chat Love to be Lucia’s interactions and relationships with her Italian family members.  As someone who is half Italian, I can tell you that Faeth narrates these moments with utter realism and understanding.  Lucia’s parents, sister, brother-in-law and grandmother are quite overbearing and incessantly demand details about her romantic endeavours, and yet I think Faeth does underscore the love they have for Lucia and their desire simply to see her happy.  That’s an experience that I have personally had, and I know all too well what it is like to be asked by your family members where your boyfriend is and why you don’t have one.  I remember a specific time when my great-grandmother, who barely spoke any English, somehow mustered up the ability to ask me, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”  When I told her No, seriously shocked at her capacity to string together that sentence and wondering who taught it to her, she asked me, “Why not?” and I just remember thinking, Nonna, if I knew the answer to that question, I would have one already!  Being asked about your relationship status, particularly by family who you don’t want to let down, is a tough situation to be in and I remember it very well, so I could totally put myself in Lucia’s shoes and felt her frustrations keenly.  Now that I have a fiancé, I have enough distance from the past to realize that my family members did genuinely mean well, and I was glad to find Lucia reaching that same conclusion toward the end of the novel.  And reading about Italian parents who make their own tomato sauce and wine was so refreshing and sweet, considering how much it reminded me of my own family.  I haven’t really ever read a book with such strong and thoroughly Italian characters, and I got a good laugh out of the moments that were so close to home for me.  If you liked the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’ll appreciate some of the moments in Chat Love and their Italian twist on that popular story.

Probably my favourite part of my reading experience of Chat Love was cataloguing Lucia’s boyfriends and dates, and rating each of the men she encountered.  I will say that I instantly hated Kellan, found Alan and Angelo extremely creepy and disgusting, and was immediately infatuated with Jackson.  Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that I am very pleased with how Lucia’s story ended, and the Epilogue was absolutely adorable!  It was the perfect happily ever after for a character I truly wished well to, and I think she definitely ended up with the right guy, someone sexy and confident, but also warm and tender enough to provide her with the love and companionship she deserves.  It was very fun for me to write a list of all of the men in Lucia’s life as I read, and I would encourage all readers of Chat Love to do that because it really felt like I was becoming Lucia’s friend and offering her my own mental advice about her encounters, the same way I would to one of my real-life friends.  My only source of frustration with Lucia was that she didn’t solve the “mistaken identity” plot sooner because it was so very obvious to me – having said that, I appreciated that Faeth wanted to build suspense and offer something more mysterious and intriguing than your average rom-com plot, and I truly felt on edge hoping that the main characters would just figure things out, unravel their differences and finally get together!

In the interest of honesty, I will say that I could not give Chat Love a full four-star rating because of one aspect of the plot: I felt that, in a few key places, I would’ve liked more information and for the narration to be expanded a bit.  I guess it’s a good sign if my only qualm about the novel is that I actually wanted more of it, more detail and description…allow me to explain… There are a few points in the novel where Lucia and her main love interest (no names will be revealed, I promise) are getting to know each other, either over lunch or during really cute and unique concert or baseball dates, and we are told by Lucia through her first-person narration that she is getting to know a lot about her love interest.  However, we aren’t given any actual snippets of their conversation or much dialogue, and in most places, we aren’t even told in summary fashion what exactly it is that Lucia has learned.  One such example comes when Lucia states, “The rest of lunch is spent talking about (name of love interest)’s childhood…”, but then quickly turns to narration of other events entirely.  I would’ve liked to read a bit more about what was revealed to Lucia, especially as moments like this were plentiful.  I knew that this love interest was becoming a dear friend to Lucia and that she was becoming intimately connected to him (and I liked him very much too!), but I really wish we were offered glimpses into their actual discussions.  I was left craving more of their interactions, and I guess that is, in its own way, a good sign and testament to how much I liked them as characters and as a couple!

I will also say that I would’ve liked to learn more, in a similar vein, about Lucia’s three best friends, Danni, Autumn and Skyler.  It would’ve been nice to read more about their individual friendships – however, I have a feeling that Faeth is intending to write novels specifically about these other three women, and I think that is a great idea because they each have such distinct experiences with and takes on love, and it would be quite cool to learn more about each of their romantic histories, in separate books.

Once again, I recommend Chat Love to anyone who loves romance but who has also had their fair share of disillusionment and heartbreak.  This novel is hilarious, endearing and relatable, and I feel that it is just the start of what Faeth has to offer as a witty and engaging author, in the style of Sophie Kinsella or Gemma Townley.  If you are a fan of works by those authors, I think you will surely enjoy Chat Love!

*A huge thank you to Justine Faeth for providing me with an electronic copy of Chat Love to read and review!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Forever Favourites ~ A Court of Mist and Fury & A Court of Wings and Ruin ~ #JNGReads

I don’t want to talk about it.

I don’t think I can talk about it at the moment.

Today, I’ve decided to take the role of curator rather than reviewer. It would be very easy for me to go on and on ranting about why Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series is so brilliant…but none of it would be coherent whatsoever. Read my initial review of the first novel in the series, A Court of Thorns and Roses itself, and you’ll see why. I could barely form logical sentences upon finishing that one, and now, after spending another month immersed in the world of Prythian, journeying beside Feyre and Rhysand…well, I have nothing concise or legible to write. My brain is basically mush and has been since I finished the third novel in the series, A Court of Wings and Ruin, this afternoon in the Starbucks steps away from my home. Never mind that – my heart is mush. The story was touching on so many levels, the chapters towards the end were mind-blowing and heart wrenching, and I think what has me most emotional of all is the fact that it’s all over. I was lucky in that I picked up this series when all three novels were already completed and released, so that I could read them in rapid succession – I say that I was lucky because I didn’t have to wait months or even years before continuing on Feyre’s path with her, and yet, in some ways, I don’t feel lucky at all. I didn’t have to wait, but I also didn’t get to wait. Everything happened so fast, it was an utter whirlwind – I first entered Feyre’s world less than two months ago, and then I lived and breathed in it, got down in the trenches beside her, and now, after so short a time literally but so long and involved a time figuratively, my adventure has come to an end. And yes, I can reread the series endlessly for the rest of my life, but it will never be new for me again, and that is a sad and somewhat nauseating fact.

But, as I said, I don’t have anything productive to say about this series, nothing at all that hasn’t been said by other readers before me. So, instead, I am choosing to present to you some of the quotes I marked during my reading experience, those moments that truly touched me and that I will carry around with me for the rest of my reader’s life. These passages speak for themselves – no commentary is necessary – and it is my honour to present them to you as evidence of why the ACOTAR series is so one of a kind and enthralling. So much of what makes the series incredible is the way that Maas narrates through Feyre, the cadence and rhythm and actual poetry of Feyre’s inner musings and ruminations. It is so very easy to feel as though you are becoming a part of her consciousness, becoming her dear friend and confidante.

A note before all that though: I gushed and raved about A Court of Thorns and Roses the novel after finishing it, and I still think it is brilliant. However, A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin have so much more to offer, the world grows so much larger and becomes more all encompassing, and I must admit that I fell in love with the series when I was in the midst of the second novel. I have to say it: I am Team Rhysand all the way, but not because I am comparing him to Tamlin or because I don’t believe in Feyre’s love for Tamlin and the connection they had. No, I am Team Rhysand, I am so enamoured with that High Lord of the Night Court, because he is Feyre’s true match, because he is her soul mate in every sense of the word, because he lifts her up, literally gives her wings and forces her to battle her demons, raise her voice, stand tall and become the defiant, strong and remarkably inspiring woman she is destined to be. I mentioned in my last blog post that being a man’s mate, for me, as a woman about to be married, means not succumbing to him, being submissive, subservient, quietly protected. For me, it means standing tall, being his protector as much as his protected. Choosing a mate, for me, means finding a man who will support me and who will stand in my corner as I fight my own battles. And Rhysand does just that for Feyre – he makes her his High Lady because he believes in her power, her ability to handle herself, and because he treats her as his true equal, as she rightfully deserves. What’s more, he helps her through her struggles with anxiety and depression, he urges her out of her shell and gives her the space and security to rebuild herself, stone by stone, until she is healed and whole again. As someone who suffers from anxiety and relies heavily on my own mate to navigate through it on a daily basis, I appreciated how gently but affectionately Rhysand helps Feyre through her traumatic experiences. This sort of relationship, of mutual trust and respect, is what we all need as an example in today’s society.

I offer to you, now, the passages in A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin that utterly took my breath away…

A Court of Mist and Fury

*“‘You are no one’s subject….I will say this once–and only once…You can be a pawn, be someone’s reward, and spend the rest of your immortal life bowing and scraping and pretending you’re less than him…If you want to pick that road, then fine. A shame, but it’s your choice…But I know you – more than you realize, I think – and I don’t believe for one damn minute that you’re remotely fine with being a pretty trophy for someone…’”

*“Feminine, soft, pretty. I hadn’t felt like those things in a long, long while. Hadn’t wanted to.”

*“I tried not to flinch away from meeting his stare. ‘She’s mine…And if any of you lay a hand on her, you lose that hand. And then you lose your head…And once Feyre is done killing you…then I’ll grind your bones to dust.’”

*“If I hadn’t been already in love with him, I might have loved him for that – for not insisting I stay, even if it drove his instincts mad, for not locking me away in the aftermath of what had happened yesterday.

And I realized – I realized how badly I’d been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.

Rhys’ eyes darkened, and I knew he read what I thought, felt. ‘You might be my mate,’ he said, ‘but you remain your own person. You decide your fate – your choices. Not me. You chose yesterday. You choose every day. Forever.’”

A Court of Wings and Ruin

*“I wasn’t sure I’d been born with the ability to forgive. Not for terrors inflicted on those I loved. For myself, I didn’t care – not nearly as much. But there was some fundamental pillar of steel in me that could not bend or break in this. Could not stomach the idea of letting these people get away with what they’d done.”

*“‘And you are High Lady of the Night Court.’

‘Indeed she is.’

My blood stopped at the voice that drawled from behind me.

At the scent that hit me, awoke me. My friends began smiling.

I turned.

Rhysand leaned against the archway into the sitting room, arms crossed, wings nowhere to be seen, dressed in his usual immaculate black jacket and pants.

And as those violet eyes met mine, as that familiar half smile faded…

My face crumpled. A small, broken noise cracked from me.

Rhys was instantly moving, but my legs had already given out. The foyer carpet cushioned the impact as I sank to my knees.

I covered my face with my hands while the past month crashed into me.

Rhys knelt before me, knee to knee.”

*“It’s all right, Rhys soothed. This place cannot hold you.”

*“I do not let you do anything…You are your own person, you make your own choices. But we are mates – I am yours, and you are mine. We do not let each other do things, as if we dictate the movements of each other. But…I might have insisted I go with you. More for my own mental well-being, just to know you were safe.

*“‘You do not fear…You do not falter. You do not yield….Remember that you are a wolf. And you cannot be caged.’”

*“I would have waited five hundred more years for you. A thousand years. And if this was all the time we were allowed to have…The wait was worth it.”

It speaks for itself, right?

A Court of Mist and Fury: ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

A Court of Wings and Ruin: ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

My Literary Maidens

Apologies are in order…big time!

I am so so sorry that I have been MIA on the blog for almost a month. Trust me, I get it – this is no way to show my appreciation for all you lovely readers!

However, allow me to promise you that a giant, mammoth of a book review is on its way VERY soon. If you follow along with me on Goodreads, or if you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I’ve been buried deep in the world of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series for quite a while now. That’s the reason for my lack of posts – I’ve been so enthralled with my reading, so eager to delve into my book and not put it down for the entire night, that I haven’t actually had anything else to review (although I know this is no excuse, considering I could’ve offered you some lifestyle posts in the meantime – massive apologies again!). I even chose to skip right past writing a review for the second novel in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury, because I just wanted to blaze right into the third book instead. And, I did exactly that – I am about two hundred pages away from completing A Court of Wings and Ruin, and my heart is already breaking at the thought. I have so enjoyed living in this world, with Feyre and all of her friends, and I simply do not want it to end. Hence why I have been reading extremely slooowly, savoring every last sentence and image and adventure.

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time – and I swear, a book review of the entire ACOTAR series is on its way.

Having said that, when I realized a few days ago that I haven’t posted anything here in almost a month, I was horrified! I knew I had to get something out to you, and I also knew that I needed to exercise my writing muscles again, lest they get out of practice. So, on to a bit of a different topic… Here is another wedding-related post for you all…

“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”

~ Pygmalion

Left to right: Lady Camille, JNG, Lady Courtney and Lady Kailah ❥

I count myself well and truly lucky to have some of the most wonderful friends a girl could ask for. My three best friends, my maidens, my bridesmaids, are among the most inspiring, beautiful and kind women I have ever known, and not only are they a constant source of pride for me, they also treat me with this unwavering respect and love. At times it is overwhelming to fully comprehend how loyal and dedicated they are to me and to our friendships, and they have each been the most incredible helpers throughout my wedding planning experience so far. To borrow from the idea presented in the quote above, my bridesmaids treat me like an absolute queen and make me feel so remarkably special, and I will forever be grateful for that. I cannot wait to return the favour at each of their own weddings! (Note: You can read a detailed post introducing and describing each one of my bridesmaids here.)

Not a single thing in the world could persuade me to change the three women I selected as my bridesmaids because they are the most perfect women that ever walked the planet. Having said that, there is one thing that could persuade me to increase their number – to add a few more ladies to my maiden fold – and that would be if my three favourite females from literature could jump out of the pages of their individual works and become real-life women. I recently found myself thinking about this, wondering which three heroines I would select to join myself and my bridesmaids in all of the wedding planning and events. And, there was absolutely no question – three literary heroines popped into my mind without hesitation, and I truly believe each of these women would fit in so well with my three best friends because they are all quite alike. I like to think I keep very good company, and I believe that even these women of the fictional world would adore my real-life bridesmaids instantly, and vice versa.

~ So, here we have it, my selections for My Literary Maidens (in no particular order, of course). ~

Jane Eyre

“Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged love in his whole look and mien—I forgave him all…”

Was there any doubt that Jane Eyre was going to be on this list? Well, there shouldn’t have been. Jane Eyre is the one literary character that I will always owe so much of my personality, my morals and my convictions to. If I wasn’t such a chicken, I’d already have this Charlotte Brontë inspired tattoo on my skin that I’ve been dreaming up for years now, because that authoress is someone I will forever be indebted to. Jane Eyre, and the novel named after her, taught me so much about love, about soul mates, and about sacrifice. She presented a strong and dignified example to me at the most critical time in my life, when I was just leaving high school, and her story emphasized to me that it is possible to find an all-encompassing love that consumes but does not overcome you. Jane Eyre taught me that love is not an easy road, that there are countless obstacles on the way to finding it and also within a relationship, but that True Love means forgiveness, it means being strong enough to stand up for your love, to fight for it. To have Jane Eyre stand beside me on my wedding day would mean having a true role model in my midst, it would mean acknowledging that fortitude is an aspect of True Love that I will always apply in my own life.

Clare Abshire

“I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?”

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel that I also read when I was finishing up high school, and it is without doubt on par with Jane Eyre in my green heart. Clare Abshire is a source of undeniable inspiration in that novel, if only because she is constantly waiting for her love (time traveler, Henry DeTamble) to come home to her. Clare puts up with a lot of turmoil and tragedy in her relationship with Henry, and she faces every obstacle with unfailing resolve and impenetrable will. She is the very definition of a strong woman, and she has always been a model for me of how to overcome jealousy, uncertainty and insecurity. Clare is so confident in Henry’s love for her that she doesn’t let the little things, like ex-girlfriends in his life, or even the big things, like his regular absence, to get to her. She has a lot to face and get through in loving Henry, but she tackles each situation with a calm that is utterly remarkable. Clare Abshire taught me that love means being patient, it means waiting for The One and then hanging onto him through thick and thin, being his rock, his anchor. To have Clare Abshire stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love really can conquer all, and that the right love will survive all obstacles of time and distance.

Eliza Doolittle

“Aha! Now I know how to deal with you. What a fool I was not to think of it before! You can’t take away the knowledge you gave me….Oh, when I think of myself crawling under your feet and being trampled on and called names, when all the time I had only to lift up my finger to be as good as you, I could just kick myself.”

I admit, it was a bit trickier for me to come up with my third literary bridesmaid…but only for about two seconds. Then, it dawned on me, what better bridesmaid to have than the original flower girl, Eliza Doolittle of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Eliza isn’t your classic romantic heroine whatsoever, and that’s what makes her a character that taught me so very much about love and relationships. I read Pygmalion for the first time after starting university, but I’ve been a fan of My Fair Lady since I was something like 6 years old, so Eliza Doolittle has always been a mentor to me. And what a remarkable and unique woman she is – Eliza Doolittle is a woman who does not stand down, who is not flattened or trampled on by any of the men around her. Although she is fond of her professor Henry Higgins, she refuses to have her personality muddled or diluted by him, and she is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Her main objective throughout the entire play is to better herself, to lift herself up in society, and while her pseudo-partner Higgins assists her on her journey and gives her the tools to be a better version of herself, she is the one who gets down and dirty, who battles every day with society’s expectations and uses her indomitable will and strength to get ahead and make a name for herself. Eliza Doolittle is one of the strongest female characters that exists in literature, and that comes from her defiance of societal norms and her desire to question and interrogate the social structures around her. To have Eliza Doolittle stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love does NOT mean losing your identity or becoming a mere domestic goddess. It would mean acknowledging that being a woman in love, being a wife, does NOT mean giving up on your dreams or stifling your passions. It would mean proclaiming that the right husband, the right partner, will give you wings to fly and build your own name, for yourself.

With friends like these, how could a girl go wrong? My three real-life best friends and my three fictional ones are the pillars of my personality, the puzzle pieces that go together perfectly to make me into the woman I am today, the one that my fiancé fell in love with. Without each of them, I would be nowhere close to who I am at this moment, and I am so honoured that each of them will play a part in my Big Day…because believe me, I plan to make Jane and Clare and Eliza a real presence on my wedding day, even if they can’t be there in person…so stay tuned for posts about that in the future!

See you all again very soon, I promise!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Truly Unexpected Favourite ~ A Court of Thorns and Roses ~ #JNGReads

What on Earth did I just read?!?!?!

I rarely do this. I rarely sit down and write a review only moments after finishing a book, especially if it’s after 10:00pm on a weekday, but this time, I just couldn’t resist.

I am in shock – complete and utter, mind-bending, soul-altering shock – from what I experienced. Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow.

I have to admit, I was expecting to enjoy Sarah J. Maas’ novel A Court of Thorns and Roses. Read the description of it, online, on Goodreads, anywhere you can find it – it is a novel right up my alley: a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a strong and defiant heroine, battling it out against unique and terrifying villains, all in the hopes of saving her beloved. Sign me up. My only source of hesitation when picking up the novel was its genre – fantasy is not my thing whatsoever (Unpopular opinion time: I struggle to get through episodes of Game of Thrones that my fiancé finds incredible and heart wrenching, because I find that show DULL!), and so I had this feeling that I would like ACOTAR, but that I wouldn’t love it.

Well, I was freakin’ wrong on all accounts, and I am more shocked than anyone about it (except, perhaps, for my fiancé who can’t believe that a book of high fantasy had me gasping and writhing on our couch). Holy ****, I don’t even know how to describe what I’ve just experienced. This book is INCREDIBLE and I LOVED it!!!

Okay, how to put into words the emotions that are currently swirling in my chest… I have no idea. I need to try to be calm and rational about this, but it is so so hard, and if you’ve heard of ACOTAR at all or read any reviews, you’ll know why I’m so shaken. It is just that good. Like I said, I was NOT expecting to react this strongly or be this sucked into a fantasy world, but Maas’ writing is so intricate and detailed and consuming that I couldn’t stop myself from being overtaken. And more than that, I am completely overwhelmed by the story – it delivered every possible emotion; I felt horror and fear and anxiety and joy and love; it was romantic and funny and suspenseful and terrifying. It was everything, absolutely EVERYTHING that literature and fiction should be because it effortlessly transported me to another world. I was so enveloped in Feyre’s world that I almost forgot where I was at times, that I was able to ignore my real-life anxieties and obligations and go on a wonderful and awesome adventure. This, this, is what reading is all about!

Alright, let me try to properly articulate what I loved about A Court of Thorns and Roses… Everything!!! No, focus, be more detailed than that…

~ I loved the world, the setting. This surprised me more than anything. As I mentioned, I’m not one for all that fantasy stuff, and although I don’t mind reading about a fairy every now and then, I can’t say that I crave entering mythical or magical lands all that often. Having said that, Maas creates a world that is recognizable and relatable, but tinged with just enough magic to make it intriguing. Fantasy truly is the perfect word for it because I felt like Prythian was the ideal place to live, full of human comforts and familiarity, but also laced with wonders and immense beauty. I totally felt like I was living there because Maas’ descriptions were so breathtaking, and to be frank, I’d like to head back there right now.

~ I loved Feyre. I’ve heard criticism of her, and I’ll admit that I was SUPER annoyed when she couldn’t figure out the simplest riddle in all of existence, but she kick assed and I loved it! She is a strong, defiant and utterly brave female character, and she is about a million times more resourceful and resilient than her male counterparts. This is the type of female character that we need in this day and age, and when things got ridiculously intense at the end of the novel, I was on Feyre’s side every step of the way. I think she made all the right decisions, and I was in awe of her heart and her passion. I like to think that I’m similar to her in many ways, in my loyalty above all things, and she really did inspire me to stand tall and walk with my chin held high under all circumstances. Go Feyre!

~ I loved Rhysand. This is probably shameful, but this is where I’m at by the end of this epic novel. I don’t understand Rhysand, I have no real idea what he’s up to or what’s going on, but I like him. He’s mysterious and I just know that he’s misunderstood and has a kind heart way underneath his pale skin, and I’m sorry, but any time I sense even a bit of Mr. Rochester in a male character, I’m going to fall for him. It’s complicated, definitely, but I feel like something good is happening between him and Feyre, so I’m just going to go with it. He was there for her when it counted, when no one else was, and for that, I give him points. And, also, this scene…I mean, come on, I didn’t stand a chance…

“The pain shot through my bones again, and through my increasing hysteria, I heard words inside my head that stopped me short.

Don’t let her see you cry.

Put your hands at your sides and stand up.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t move.

Stand. Don’t give her the satisfaction of seeing you break.

My knees and spine, not entirely of my own will, forced me upright, and when the ground at last stopped moving, I looked at Amarantha with tearless eyes.

Good, Rhysand told me. Stare her down. No tears – wait until you’re back in your cell.

….Good girl. Now walk away. Turn on your heel – good. Walk toward the door. Keep your chin high. Let the crowd part. One step after another.

I listened to him, let him keep me tethered to sanity…”

~ I wanted to love Tamlin. I think I was supposed to love him, but in typical Victorian heroine fashion, I let a more interesting male character distract me. Tamlin was bland, if I’m honest, and he didn’t really do much of anything. Even his “romantic” interactions with Feyre weren’t all that spicy or intoxicating. However, I understand that it was important for him to be the likable good guy in order for Feyre’s willingness to die for him to be believable. If anything, though, I saw him as more of a plot device to get Feyre Under the Mountain, and that was just fine – but, the fact is, I’m not enamoured with him and I’m more interested in Feyre’s personal journey in the coming books than with her relationship with him.

~ I loved this entire reading experience. I can’t emphasize enough that A Court of Thorns and Roses delivers exactly what every reader should want: a true escape. I was whisked away to an entirely different realm and I was absorbed for every single second of my journey. The final third of the novel is full of such suspense and agony and uncertainty that I was actually shaken and left totally unnerved. I found it hard to concentrate on anything else, or even to sleep, because I kept dwelling on Feyre’s dilemma – it was that intense.

This reading experience was passionate for me, all encompassing and profound, and I am so glad that I decided to buy the second and third installment of the series this past weekend so I can dive back into the story right away. There must’ve been flaws with this novel, I’m sure there were, but I can’t even think about them because I’m too overjoyed and excited about how intricate the story was and how many new friends I’ve made in its pages. This reading experience was simply breathtaking, and I would highly recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses to any reader that wants to get away for awhile and be consumed by a world both different from and yet satisfyingly similar to our own.

On to the next novel – but seriously, I’m cracking open its spine tonight!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Thirteen Reasons Why – #JNGReads

I want to start this review by stating that the reason behind my critiques and average rating of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is the writing style, and has nothing at all to do with the subject matter. I am a firm believer that suicide is absolutely something that must be discussed with and among young adults, and although I know the Netflix adaptation of the novel has received some criticism from parents and teachers for sensationalizing suicide, I feel strongly that this topic must be addressed and not avoided or feared. Young adults deserve for their anxieties and sources of depression to be acknowledged, and we also owe it to the young adult generation to encourage them to read texts and watch films and television shows that will draw their attention to the dangers of bullying, ridicule and prejudice, and that will encourage them to be mindful of their own actions and behaviours. These aren’t issues to shy away from, especially in our current age of social media, and I for one am very happy that there are authors like Asher out there who are eager to push the envelope and get people talking about tough and scary subject matter. For its unvarnished and unafraid portrayal of teenage depression, Thirteen Reasons Why gets a lot of respect from me.

Having said that, I could not give Thirteen Reasons Why a four-star rating, and that is mainly because I found it very hard to follow and felt myself constantly comparing it to another, very similar young adult novel that I read this year, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Before I Fall deals with the topics of bullying and teen suicide and investigates them in just as much depth as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, in my opinion, it was a better book and the narrator Samantha Kingston’s voice was more unique and clear. I found myself becoming very emotionally and viscerally attached to Sam and her story, and, unfortunately, that profound connection was missing from my reading experience of Thirteen Reasons Why.

I think this is mostly down to the fact that Clay’s first-person narration of listening to Hannah’s tapes is inter-spliced with Hannah’s narration on the tapes themselves. I know that Asher was probably intending for this style to come across as a conversation between the two main characters, a way of meshing their voices, blending them, and offering a stream of consciousness sort of perspective to the reader, but I felt that the style just missed the mark here. Rather than building a bond between Clay and Hannah that I found devastating and tragic (which I believe was the intention), the constant oscillation between Clay’s thoughts and Hannah’s was incredibly jarring and took me right out of the narration on the tapes. I kept feeling as though my understanding of Hannah and the stories she related was being interrupted, almost as if I was reading along and then literally had a family member or friend or random person sitting beside me at Starbucks come bursting up and start talking to me of unrelated topics. It quite literally felt like having my reading distracted by external forces at times, and I found myself thinking that I wished Clay’s narration was omitted entirely. Although I found Clay to be a sweet and endearing character, most of that I gleaned from Hannah’s description of him on the tape devoted to him, and I think the entire novel could’ve offered a more seamless and moving experience if all that had been presented to the reader was a transcript of Hannah’s tapes and nothing more. I just never had a chance to connect to Hannah, to get to know her or live inside her skin, because every time I came close to empathizing with her, my attention was snatched away by Clay’s internal monologue and his own preoccupations, frustrations and sadness. I feel that Clay’s narration wholly and utterly diluted Hannah’s, and that is why I preferred Before I Fall, which was told in a truly emotional but concise and clear first-person style that encouraged and helped me to live in Sam’s shoes, to effectively reside in her head.

I don’t know how much of that made sense and how much of it merely verged on disgruntled rants and ramblings, but I have to say that I am disappointed by the writing style in Thirteen Reasons Why because it prevented me from feeling for and with Hannah. I guess that is the best way to sum up my feelings toward the novel: the subject matter was important and poignant, but the articulation of it was frustrating, confusing and disjointed, in my opinion.

The thing is, what’s tricky about critiquing Thirteen Reasons Why is that I almost feel bad or guilty for giving it an average rating because, like I said, the subject matter is anything but average. By saying that I didn’t like the way the novel was written, I fear that I may discourage some readers from picking it up, and I sincerely hope that is not the case. Thirteen Reasons Why is absolutely the sort of book I would encourage my teenage daughter or son to read, and I do believe that encountering this subject matter in written form is probably preferable to watching a TV show about it because the novel does at least provide more depth and intricacy than a visual medium would. Having said that, I would equally encourage my daughter or son to read Before I Fall, which I feel is a stronger novel – in either case, though, I would be willing and eager to enter this sort of conversation with my child and remind him or her that actions have consequences, that words and decisions affect and can hurt other people. That is the strongest lesson I took from Thirteen Reasons Why: none of us live in a bubble, what we do and say matters and has an impact on others. Even Hannah, who we may be inclined to view as a victim at first, chooses to release tapes that are damning and complicated and dark, and so she is also a contributor to the complex world of rumours and gossip and unreliable perspectives. Nothing is black and white or straightforward in Thirteen Reasons Why, and even the victims are guilty in many ways of their own (I’m thinking of the two tragedies that happen during the party Hannah describes at the end of her tape collection, and in which Hannah is at least somewhat complicit), and I believe this focus is what makes the novel so hard-hitting in the end.

One other criticism I’d like to address is something I read in some other reviews on Goodreads. I noticed that a few people have criticized Hannah for ending her life for reasons that these readers feel aren’t serious or valid enough. I find that sort of critique to be quite callous and unnecessary. The crucial thing to remember about anxiety and depression is that they follow no specific formula and are drastically different for each individual person who struggles with them. Speaking as someone who has dealt for many years with anxiety, I know that it is often “illogical” in the sense that there are few people who would understand or sympathize with why certain things give me anxiety, particularly when my mind is fixated on things that are so subtle and seemingly minor that they’d hardly concern anyone else at all. But that’s the thing, my mind works differently from everyone else’s simply because everyone has their own mind and their own way of seeing things, and I would never judge someone else for being nervous or worried about something that I myself could deal with or overcome. Mental health is so personal, and I think that the beauty of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it explores the fact that even the littlest and apparently most insignificant words and actions can have much more weight than we can imagine. So, if Hannah felt compelled to end her life because of her experiences with the people she mentions on her tapes, that is so sad and unfortunate and heartbreaking, but it is not for anyone to judge or justify. That’s just my feeling on that particular critique.

Overall, I encourage people to read Thirteen Reasons Why and to not be afraid to put it in the hands of their children. As long as the dialogue about it is open and honest, I feel there are more lessons to be learned from this novel than risks resulting from reading it.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart