The Marriage Lie – #JNGReads

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle is a fantastic novel, and it is just what I needed to read at the moment. After feeling so indifferent toward my last read that I couldn’t even review it because I had nothing interesting or worthwhile to say about it, and after quite frankly despising my read prior to that one, I am so happy to be able to write a review now that will be nothing but glowingly positive. The Marriage Lie is an addictive novel, it is fast-paced, well-articulated and just the right length – I would highly recommend it to any and all readers!

I haven’t read a mystery novel or a thriller in a very long time, and I can’t say it is a genre I am particularly well-versed in. Sure, I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s novels and I of course encountered a classic Agatha Christie tale every now and then in my English literature classes, but other than that, I haven’t delved too deeply into this realm of literature and although I intended to read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train when I heard all the hype about them, I just never got around to it. Psychological thrillers are rarely at the top of my list of books to read, because they just don’t come onto my radar all that often. That is until The Marriage Lie which I couldn’t avoid spotting on Goodreads – it seems to have absolutely taken the literary world by storm, and I read nothing but rave reviews, so I immediately added it to my To Read List and picked it up as soon as I next went to the bookstore.

Boy, am I glad I read this novel because it was so utterly enjoyable and absorbing that it took my mind off absolutely everything and was the quintessential escape novel. I liked absolutely everything about this novel, from the plot structure and pacing to the main characters, including Will (who despite his imperfections and flawed morality, I happen to fancy quite a bit). The only aspect of the novel that lowered my rating is the fact that I did predict some elements and revelations – there was not one huge twist in the story, and I didn’t mind that at all, but I did suspect one of the revelations from the very start of the novel, so that was a bit anticlimactic in a sense. It didn’t deter from my enjoyment of the novel whatsoever, though, so I wouldn’t have any qualms recommending the novel to mystery lovers despite the predictability of the whole story. I should say, though, that the very ending of the novel shocked me and quite literally took my breath away – I actually found the entire final chapter to be very charged and emotional, and difficult to get through, but it was an absolutely perfect conclusion!

My favourite aspect of the novel was probably the characters, and how well they are articulated and described. I was astonished by the fact that each one of them had such a distinct personality, from Iris’ twin brother and best friend Dave to Will’s old “friend” Corban. Each one of the main and secondary characters was fleshed out and thoroughly developed, and they each added a clear drive and depth to the overall story and contributed in some way to Iris’ search for answers about her husband, Will. Iris was by far my favourite character because I found her incredibly endearing, and I think the fact that Belle made her a psychologist really worked well with the premise of the story because it meant that Iris was smart enough to piece together the mysteries and complexities of her husband’s past life, but also that she wasn’t a complete expert on every layer of the mystery. She had just enough knowledge and expertise to get her through her search and investigation, but she was also often lost and confused in much the same way I was as a reader, so it was really comfortable going on the journey with her. I also have to admit that I truly did like Will, although he doesn’t feature literally in too much of the story. The plot is very complex and there are so many moral issues presented in it, but I think that at the very root of everything is this immense love that Will has for Iris. I’ve read many reviews where readers said that the book really kicked off for them in the second chapter, and I totally agree, but I will say that the first chapter was my absolute favourite because it is so simple and subtle, and gives such insight into the relationship that Iris and Will have. This first chapter was perfectly detailed and was the ideal introduction to the story because it allows for the reader to sympathize and empathize with Iris’ emotions later in the novel, including her depression and sadness as well as her anger and frustration.

The Marriage Lie is complex and compelling, and I think it is the perfect blend of thrilling and realistic. There wasn’t anything too far-fetched about it and the characters were so utterly believable that I had no real criticisms about it whatsoever. I highly recommend it to all readers, because I think even those not accustomed to the mystery genre will thoroughly enjoy the ride!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Anna and the French Kiss – #JNGReads

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

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

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

Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Royally Matched – #JNGReads

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to review Royally Matched by Emma Chase (the sequel to the novel I just finished, Royally Screwed) for the last few hours, and I am still very conflicted. On the one hand, I blasted through the story and finished it in only a few days. It was just as light and entertaining as the first novel in the series, and although it was replete with clichés and it was predictable in the sense that I knew exactly how it would end, I devoured it (just like I did Royally Screwed) and I had a really fun time reading it. Having said that, there were a few things that bothered me about the novel, and I’m finding it hard to overlook them.

I should say, though, that Henry was by far my favourite part of the story. Chase was very wise to once again include her male main character’s perspective because I loved using his eyes to view Sarah and getting a chance to delve further into his emotions and anxieties about becoming king. And, yes okay, Henry was very sexy and I liked spending time with him…fine, I admit it. Henry was what got me through the novel, and reading his first person narration was the highlight of the whole story for me.

Which brings me to my one major problem with the story: Sarah, the female love interest. It surprised me that I didn’t like Sarah because, to be honest, she’s basically me. So much of what she said and thought was familiar to me, because I have said and thought and even done almost the exact same things. But although Sarah is realistic in the sense that her looks (I mean, I do have long dark hair and glasses, sooo…), personality and morals reminded me so much of my own, I also thought she was just one big stereotype. I know that may seem like a contradiction because how could Sarah be a stereotype if she’s like me and I’m real…but somehow, it happened. Sarah is bookish, virginal and innocent – and I have been all of these things. I’ve done exactly what Sarah did, investing myself in a quiet routine, focusing on my novels and my work, allowing myself to put literary heroes on a pedestal that no real man could possibly surmount. And, when Sarah meets a man who challenges her, makes her strong and brave, and pushes her out of her comfort zone, well, that reminded me a lot of when I met my fiancé and my world was turned upside down, in the best way possible. Yeah, Sarah is essentially a character modeled after me, but at the same time, I got so frustrated with her and annoyed by the fact that she has to be bookish, virginal and innocent in order to contrast the bad boy that is Prince Henry. For me, this is a story that has been told too many times: shy and inexperienced girl meets damaged boy, opens his eyes to the importance of True Love and responsibility and they live happily ever after. And while this is a story structure that I usually love, for some reason I found that, in Royally Matched, Sarah was just too overdone. She was too much the stereotype and didn’t have much else to offer. I even found the references to classic literature by Austen and Brontë were heavy-handed and too numerous. I don’t know, maybe I’m being picky because Sarah hit close to home as a character, but she just seemed a little over the top in her characterization, a bit overacted in a way, and that got in the way of my reading experience.

But, at the same time, like I said, there were moments in Royally Matched that warmed my heart and made it more memorable than Royally Screwed. Some of the lines were really nice and touching – here are a few of my favourites…

“There are meetings in books that stand out, that alter the course of the story. Profound encounters between characters when one soul seems to say to the other, ‘There you are – I’ve been looking for you.’”

“‘You are every dream I never let myself believe could come true.’”

“‘You are woven into my soul and you are wrapped around my heart.’”

One last qualm with the novel: Chase starts a lot of her sentences with “Because”. I’m not a stickler for grammar, and I think it’s important to master a narrative voice and run with it, even if it isn’t technically “correct” all the time…but, I still found the repeated use of “because” at the beginning of sentences to be a bit glaring and obvious. Picky, I know, but there it is.

I’m going to have to give Royally Matched an average rating, although I did get a lot of pleasure out of reading it. It’s just one of those things where it was an enjoyable read, but there were also some problems that necessarily lowered my rating. But, if you liked Royally Screwed, I would highly recommend Royally Matched to you, and realistically, I will be reading the third novel in the series when it comes out.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Royally Screwed – #JNGReads

I’m a fan of adult fiction.  That’s probably pretty obvious from the fact that I’m reviewing Royally Screwed by Emma Chase at the moment, but I think it’s worth bluntly stating that, every now and then, I enjoy a good romantic comedy read with adult elements.  There are novels of this genre that I’ve hated, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes there are those ones that are more unique, that are story-driven and that feature intricate and complex characters, and then the erotic parts seem to add something to the narrative rather than overwhelming it.  When done properly, adult fiction can be really enjoyable and exciting to read, and that’s where my interest in it stems from.

I had a Victorian literature professor in third year university who told us that the entire romance genre is derived from the Victorian era and the literature of its time.  While this seems like a loaded statement, I can see what my professor was trying to say (and she’s one of the leading Victorian literature experts in Canada, so I wouldn’t dream of arguing with her anyway) – the best romances feature all of the tropes that were first explored in Victorian literature: the disadvantaged but strong and defiant heroine; the dashing and intoxicating hero who has a secret or two, a wife locked up in his attic; the societal norms or economic circumstances or some such obstacle that keeps the lovers apart; the happy and triumphant conclusion, where the hero and the heroine assert their choice, stand up to society and put their love before any and all convention.  These are the features of many Victorian novels, and they are reimagined in the most successful romance novels of our current time.

So, when I read the description of Emma Chase’s Royally Screwed, I thought, Perfect, this is romantic gold!  And it absolutely was – the sort of plot that becomes addictive, that you crave, that you’re excited to delve further into.  The novel follows Prince Nicholas and his relationship with a commoner, New York bakeshop owner Olivia.  Obviously, their different social stations is the major obstacle to overcome in the story and Nicholas must decide either to abandon his love or his country, his heart or his duty.  This is the sort of story that is right up my alley, especially since I have a particular fondness for royalty, and I was eager to read it for months before finding it relatively cheap on my new Kobo.  I’ve found, in the short time I’ve been using the Kobo, that romance novels seem to be the perfect genre to use it for, partly because most romance novels have front covers that I’m slightly embarrassed to flaunt about on the bus, and also because the stories are usually so light and simple that the structure is easy to follow in digital format.  Anyway, as soon as I saw Royally Screwed on the Kobo, I snatched it up and finished it within only a few days.

I really did become addicted to reading this story.  Although it was a straight-forward story and many of the conflicts were resolved perhaps too easily, I had a lot of fun reading it and it was just the sort of novel I needed in my life during a week when I was desperately missing my fiancé and craving romance.  Nicholas is a really sexy character (Sidenote: I love that they never call him Nick, because he is a Nicholas through and through) and what I enjoyed most about Royally Screwed was reading the story through Nicholas’ perspective.  Chase was very smart to alternate the point of view between that of Olivia and that of Nicholas, and I found myself enjoying Nicholas’ portions more because it gave me an insight into how he perceived and felt about Olivia.  Some may argue that this perspective renders Olivia nothing more than an object of the male gaze, but Olivia also had her turn telling her portions of the story and she was a well-developed character who had a personality in her own right, and so her characterization didn’t suffer at all during the points when Nicholas told the story.  The beauty of literature is that it can offer its reader a fresh perspective on reality and, in this case, romance, and so I thoroughly enjoyed reading the man’s take on all of the events.

The one qualm I have with the novel is that Olivia seemed to lose a bit of her strength as the story progressed.  Her first interaction with Nicholas is unexpected and fiery and she exudes this no nonsense attitude, and I think in that scene, she seriously challenges Nicholas.  I did feel, though, that as the love story went on and Olivia began to have feelings for Nicholas, she started to become one of those typical heroines who gives in a bit too easily, who forgets what she stands for a little bit.  I don’t think I’m being too critical, but I do think that Chase intended for Olivia to be a strong female character, and she does a lot better than most authors of this genre of novel.  I’m very interested in reading the second book in this series, Royally Matched (I’m intending to start it today), because the main female character in that one seems to be a touch more unique and self-assured.

Bottom line, I devoured Royally Screwed and I don’t think I need to read much further into things than that.  It is a seriously entertaining book, the main characters are charming, and it offers a glimpse into the second novel in the series that makes it seem like it is definitely worth continuing with these characters.  I’d highly recommend Royally Screwed to readers who are entertained by romances and who aren’t put off by fast resolutions and occasional clichés.  I personally enjoyed the novel and look forward to reading the second one.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Tale as Old as Time – #JNGWatches

“It’s my favourite part because, you’ll see,

here’s where she meets Prince Charming

~ but she won’t discover that it’s him ‘til chapter three.”

~ Belle

If you’re a longtime follower of this little blog, you already know how fond I am of stories, how invested and engrossed I get in the tales of fictional characters.  I’ve raved about Jane Eyre and her dashing Mr. Rochester, I’ve gushed over the more modern romance between Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, and I’ve even obsessed over a piece of chick lit. every once and a awhile as well.  I am the type of person who wears my literature loving heart on my sleeve (in all its green glory), and I’ve ranted about other forms of pop culture as well, such as my adoration for musicals like The Phantom of the Opera and plays like Angels in America.  And, I’ve mentioned on countless occasions, that one particular film, from the earliest days of my childhood, touched me on a profound level when I was only a little girl.

~ Beauty and the Beast ~

Arguably Disney’s greatest movie.  It officially came out in November 1991, the very month and year I was born, and so there’s no denying that Belle and I were born around the same time, and may in fact (at least in my mind) be one and the same person.  Now, naturally, I’m somewhat delusional when it comes to fiction, making it such a huge driving force in my life, allowing it to inform many of my decisions over the years, like the courses I studied in university, and the friends I’ve chosen to surround myself with, and the man I’ve decided to marry.  But no piece of fiction has been with me as long as Beauty and the Beast, and I feel strongly that it is responsible for many of the aspects of my personality that I hold so dear.  There’s no doubt that the movies and books we encounter as young children have the ability to shape our thoughts and mold our future, and I was such a young girl when I first watched Belle’s story.  Is it any wonder, then, that I went on to develop a passion for the French language and for novels and the written word?  Growing up in a small town just east of Toronto was also significant, because I identified on so many levels with Belle’s desire to escape her “provincial life”, the “little town” in which she was born and raised.  Is it any wonder, then, that I chose to go off to the big city, to downtown Toronto, for university, and that I have decided to make this very city the home of my adulthood?  Belle, although to many people no more than a cartoon princess, was my soul mate as a child, my role model, and so very much of who I have become is owed to her.

So, imagine my jealousy when I heard that Beauty and the Beast was being remade, as a live action film, and that Emma Watson was taking my rightful role of Belle.  I’m kidding, of course – I was unbearably excited as soon as I learned that my beloved B&B was getting an update, and although I wasn’t sure how I felt about any of the casting, I was eager to give the film the chance it deserved.  I went in with an open-mind (which was surprising to everyone who knows my intense love for the original), and I immediately bought my tickets to see the movie this past Saturday, the day after opening night.

Well, as much as I would’ve loved to be able to critique something about the film and maybe present a bit of a more dignified review, I can’t – the film was nothing short of PERFECT!  I was in tears several times throughout the movie, and every tiny detail of it took my breath away.  This is going to be another rave-y post because I can’t gush about this movie enough.  I was tempted to pay for another ticket and watch it from the beginning again within minutes of it finishing, and if it wasn’t sold out, I probably would have.

I saw the movie with my fiancé, mother and father, all of whom are consciously aware of just how important this story is to me.  The most surprising thing is that all three of them absolutely loved the movie too!  I was expecting my mom to adore it because she has always been just as obsessed with the original as I am, but I was not anticipating just how excited my dad and SS would be about it.  They’re both eager to see the movie again and SS was singing lines from the various songs throughout the rest of the weekend.  He makes a pretty convincing Gaston, I must say!

The movie is touching – that is probably the best word to describe it.  So much of it just took my breath away, from the incredible and jaw-dropping sets to the gorgeous costumes.  I was extremely skeptical about the CGI and hoping that the Beast wouldn’t look too cartoon-y and ridiculous, and in the end I was so impressed with how realistic he looked.  His facial expressions were exact and I had no problem believing that he was actually real.  And of course, my favourite enchanted objects looked exquisite, as usual, and I was quite fond of the reboot and makeover they each got.

The music was just as incredible as in the original, and I was blown away by the musical numbers, particularly the performance of the song “Gaston”.  Was I expecting Luke Evans to be able to sing?  No.  Was I thoroughly impressed with him, on all accounts, but particularly during his  musical number?  Absolutely!  Luke Evans was by far the breakout star of the entire movie for me (probably because I have always had a soft spot for the villain!), and his dancing and singing was absolutely perfect!  This specific scene was easily the most fun of the entire movie, and Evans oozed this confidence that was exactly what the role needed.  He was my favourite part of the whole movie, no question!

From the time my mom and I met Gaston at Disney World!

Credit must be given to the other superb actors though.  Ewan McGregor was hilarious as Lumière, and he performed “Be Our Guest” flawlessly.  Ian McKellan was the dream Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson was the quintessential Mrs. Potts – she also performed the title song with grace and skill.  Emma Watson was, I must admit, a pretty great Belle, and while that character is very dear to me and it is hard for me to say this, I think she was very well cast and did a good job channeling Belle’s goodness and charm.

“How do you feel about growing a beard?” ~ Belle to Prince Adam

(Easily the most adorable and funny line of the whole film, and definitely my favourite!)

The greatest surprise for me, though, was Dan Stevens as the Beast.  I haven’t seen Stevens in any other roles (although SS tells me he’s remarkable in the TV show Legion) and so I had no expectations of him – but, he truly blew me away!  One of the many minor additions to the original is a solo song for the Beast called “Evermore”, which I found so endearing and moving.  Stevens brilliantly acted it and his singing was just great, and I found that particular scene to be so essential to the story because it really added a human quality to the Beast’s character.  There was no doubt, after that scene, that he had truly become a prince on the inside, where it counts.

“I am not a beast.” ~ Adam (aka the Beast)

I’d also like to briefly touch on the controversy surrounding some aspects of the film.  There’s no need to go into too much detail because I don’t want to bring any negativity to this review or give any credibility to this criticism, and I honestly haven’t read too much up on it because the headlines alone frustrated me.  Anyone who’s being critical of the fact that the film does include references to homosexuality is being totally ridiculous, in my opinion.  The film is beautiful, it stays true to its strong message of loving people for who they are on the inside, and it presents powerful role models to young children, particularly young girls.  By including some subtle references to homosexuality, I feel that the filmmakers only made the story more inclusive and more representative of our society, and I think that is simply wonderful!  There is at least one character in this film that everyone can attach to and be inspired by, and I think that is exactly how Disney stories need to be updated and brought into the 21st century.  For anyone who criticizes the film for these sorts of things, I would encourage them to actually see it with an open mind and an open heart, because they may actually learn a thing or two about love and kindness.

Beauty and the Beast deserves 5-stars, if you ask me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!  There is something for literally everyone to enjoy and I am so happy to say that it did the original so very proud!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Substitute ~ a Perfect Read for Fans of The Wedding Date – #JNGReads

The Substitute by Denise Grover Swank is the first novel that I have ever read on an e-reader, and I have to say that, despite the new medium and the adjustments that I had to make in my own reading style, I thoroughly enjoyed it! If anything, I never would have had the chance to read this lovely little novel if it wasn’t for my new Kobo, because I actually found it for free on the Kobo website and thought it would be the perfect first e-book for me to delve into. I am so glad that I downloaded it and gave it a chance, and I would recommend it to a very particular type of reader…but more about that in a moment…

I feel that a quick, light and breezy review is most appropriate for this novel, as it is all of those things. The Substitute, I must be honest, isn’t a work of great literary fiction – it is simple and predictable. But, regardless of the fact that I saw all the “twists” coming and had read similar stories, and even similar phrases and passages, before, I still couldn’t get enough of The Substitute. The story was so light and fun that it became totally addictive for me, and I powered through it over my lunch breaks and morning and evening commutes. The “pages” of my Kobo couldn’t refresh fast enough! The experience of reading The Substitute felt, for me, like that year in elementary school when I first discovered chapter books and became obsessed with reading. Perhaps this is down to the fact that I was reading for the first time on a Kobo, and so the whole activity of reading felt very new to me – but, in any case, reading The Substitute and being so eager to get back into the story as often as I could sneak a break reminded me of those recesses in grade school when I would sit on the hard pavement with my chapter book in hand. I spent a lot of my time, both during school hours and home hours, reading in my young life, and these past few days of mine, immersed in The Substitute and loving every minute of my immersion, brought me back to the days when I discovered the joys of reading for the very first time.

It’s pretty obvious, then, that The Substitute made me very happy while I read it. It most certainly isn’t the book for everyone, and I know many fellow readers who wouldn’t get past a single chapter. It is not only simple, but also simplistic, written in a fast-paced style that tells a lot more than it shows. There is a lot of summary in it, of both feelings and events, and issues are resolved mega-quickly. This would frustrate many readers, and it is the sort of thing that frustrates me about certain books too. But, for some reason, I couldn’t be frustrated with The Substitute because it was too fun a book to be mad at. It was exactly like one of those Hallmark movies that are so enjoyable, even if they are unrealistic. I knew exactly how the story would end (happily, spoiler alert!) and I knew that much of it would be far-fetched and unbelievable, but I really didn’t care. I loved the ride, I got swept up in the romance, and it made me so eager for my own wedding later this year. It was, quite simply, a feel-good read, and that was just what I needed!

I also must say that I was surprised by how much I liked the two main characters, Megan and Josh. Sure, there isn’t a lot to them, and they are about as developed as the main characters in those Hallmark movies I mentioned, but that was precisely what I was expecting from this novel, and I chose to read it with that in mind. It delivered on my expectations, and Megan and Josh were so adorable and endearing and straightforward, that I found myself latching onto and becoming attached to them.

As if all that doesn’t recommend it enough as a perfect holiday read, The Substitute reminded me very much of one of my favourite movies of all time, The Wedding Date. Again, this movie isn’t earth-shattering or groundbreaking, but it is so addictive in that it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Some of the quotes and moments are so truly romantic, and I actually think one quote in particular from The Wedding Date summarizes the whole premise of The Substitute perfectly…

If you’re a fan of fast and fun romances, then The Substitute is the book for you! It’s a truly entertaining love story fueled by fate and chance, and if you want to smile constantly while reading, it won’t disappoint!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

New Medium

Hello dear Readers!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written any kind of post that wasn’t a book review, and that’s mainly because I’ve been spending the bulk of my time reading away and working toward my Goodreads challenge of 18 books for 2017.  (At this point, that goal seems laughable because I’m already 10 books in.  Perhaps I should’ve aimed higher to start, but I didn’t, and still don’t, want to jinx myself!)

Anyway, today I have a bit of an update for you that, although related to books, isn’t actually about a book I’ve finished reading.  It is instead about how I am currently reading.

This weekend I was lucky enough to see my best friend CV.  Not only were we able to catch up on some new and exciting events in both our lives, CV also presented me with a little gift she mentioned she had for me a few weeks ago: she gave me my first ever Kobo.  It was so ridiculously sweet of her – she happens to already have two of them, so she didn’t mind passing along her third e-reader to me so that I could get a chance to try it out.  Now, I have to admit, I have resisted the e-reader craze for as long as I can remember.  My mother, grandmother and several other members of my family have offered to buy me an e-reader for my birthday and Christmas for many years, and I have always declined, professing that I could never abandon my paper books, my actual physical novels, for something electronic.  I still stand by my decision, and I will always prefer the “real thing” to books that appear on a screen – however, recently I’ve found that some of the novels I desperately want to read are only available in e-book format, and when I complained about this to CV, she suggested I take her unused, superfluous e-reader and just give the medium a chance.

So far, so good!  Surprisingly, I’m enjoying the experience of reading on my new Kobo.  I downloaded a bunch of light, airy romance novels yesterday (I felt that this would be the best genre to ease me into the experience), and as of right now, I can’t complain at all!  On the contrary, I do have to say that it is really rather convenient to carry around one lightweight device rather than a giant paperback (or worse, hardcover!) novel.  Since most of my reading is done during my long commute to and from work, I think an e-reader is a great way to be able to access the novel I’m reading without having to shuffle through my bag and carry around something heavy and cumbersome.  Although I don’t think I would use the Kobo for absolutely every book I intend to read (I think, for example, that a Dickens novel is best read with a physical book in hand), it is a great alternative for those more fun, fast reads that I delve into every once in a while.  It is also very handy to have several different novels at one’s fingertips – the main reason I turned to the Kobo this week, rather than waiting a while longer, is that I was stranded at my fiancé’s house due to a snowstorm, and didn’t have any of my physical novels available to me.  With my Kobo, I don’t have to worry about finishing a novel during my commute, and then not being able to start a new one until I get home, because I have multiple options available to me at any given time.  With the number of free and (very!) discounted books available as well, it seems like having a Kobo is a really great investment for any reader, even if they do continue to read physical books too.  I think the two mediums can definitely go hand in hand, and this entire experience has totally surprised me and been much more pleasurable than I expected!

I will be keeping track of which novels I read on my Kobo, and mentioning in my future reviews of these books whether or not the e-reading experience hindered my feelings towards the stories at all.  But, for the time being, I think things are going very well, and I am eager to keep reading on my Kobo and explore a whole host of novels that I wouldn’t formerly have had access to.

Happy (e-)reading!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

We Were On a Break — #JNGReads

We Were On a Break by Lindsey Kelk is a fun, quick read, but it isn’t anything ground-breaking or unique.  While I enjoyed reading it and was able to get through pages of it relatively quickly, when I actually had the chance to sit down and read it, there were no stand-out moments in the story that would make it a favourite chick lit. novel for me.  It’s a novel that I would recommend to anyone who wants a light and funny book to take on holiday or read on their daily commute, but it is definitely not a novel that I would ever rant and rave about.

We Were On a Break follows Adam and Liv, a thirty-something couple who decide to take a break from their relationship of approximately three years.  This is a quirky and interesting premise for a romance novel, and I was immediately intrigued by where the story would go and what emotions it would explore.  I’ve never read anything by Kelk before, but I have been meaning to for some time, so I figured that this was the perfect opportunity to get familiar with her writing style, especially because I read great things about the novel in reviews I stumbled upon.  Unfortunately, nothing about the story or the characters wowed me, and, on the contrary, I felt that the plot was a bit jumbled and disorganized, and that there wasn’t much meat to it.

The characters, particularly Liv and Adam seemed very flat to me; although I did like the more loud personalities of Liv’s best friends David and Abi, the two main characters didn’t do anything for me, and I didn’t care enough about them to really be invested in their threatened relationship.  Adam came across as more of a baby than anything, right from the very start of the novel, and having part of the story narrated in his voice only complicated my feelings toward him because I felt like he overreacted to many circumstances (such as his blundered marriage proposal) and just didn’t have any real maturity to him.  Liv also seemed to be all over the place, and while I thought it would add some depth to her character when her unhappiness in her job as a vet at her dad’s clinic was explored, these uncertainties on Liv’s part only complicated the storyline unnecessarily, and her conflicts with her parents were ultimately left entirely unresolved.  I felt that, for these reasons, the novel tried to do too much in only 400 pages, focusing first on Liv and Adam’s relationship, then on possible competition/alternative love interests for each of them, and then on their stresses at their jobs.  These would’ve all been fascinating elements to explore in a romance novel, if only the characters were stronger and more thoroughly developed, and if more pages and time were given to discussing each one of these plot points in its own turn.

I also found the writing style of this particular novel incredibly confusing!  The narration alternates between Liv’s first person narration and Adam’s, and the only aspect I enjoyed of this style was the fact that the reader gets a lot of internal monologue from each of them.  But what frustrated and confused me to no end was the fact that there is no marker, heading or title to distinguish between the narrations of Liv and Adam.  I originally expected that one chapter would be in Liv’s voice and the next in Adam’s, but I soon found that Kelk changed voices midway through chapters, and without any indication that she was doing so.  Although there would be a page break in between sections narrated by each main character, oftentimes there was a page break separating two sections of Liv’s narration, or two sections of Adam’s, so looking out for these breaks was in no way a tool to determine which character was speaking.  There were times when I read entire paragraphs before realizing the narrative voice had changed, and I just felt that this was so jarring and totally unnecessary!  It was the sort of jolt that really distracted from my reading experience!

I originally gave this novel 3 stars on Goodreads when I first finished it, but after writing this review, I think I’ll have to deduct a star.  My initial reaction, moments after closing the back cover, was that the story was entertaining enough to earn it an average rating, but when I really sit down to think about it, there were more problems, for me, than highlights.  I am a big fan of authors like Sophie Kinsella and Sally Thorne, so I think my standards for chick lit. are pretty high.  This novel, unfortunately, missed the mark for me, but I am determined to give Kelk’s books another chance in the future and maybe pick up one of her more acclaimed novels.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Before I Fall – #JNGReads

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Always – #JNGReads

I won’t be uploading a full post this week, for several reasons, but I did finish a book today and wanted to let you all quickly know what I thought of it. Here is the mini-review I wrote for Always by Sarah Jio on Goodreads

I was originally intending on writing a detailed review of this book, but I’m honestly a little confused by it (particularly the incredibly rushed ending), and I didn’t want to put something needlessly negative into the world. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, and although I had high hopes for it, it didn’t become a favourite. Rather than going into detail about why that’s the case though, I thought I’d focus on the positive, and leave my one favourite passage from the novel here instead…

“And then you meet someone who is different than your ex in almost every way, and you wonder if you can do it. You wonder if you can love the way you did so long ago. You’re not sure, but you try, and when you do, when you force yourself to go through the motions, you realize that your heart – asleep for so long – is groggily waking up, like a bear fresh out of hibernation. You’re alternately hungry and grumpy, disoriented, a bit lost. It surprises you when you feel the spark again. And though it might not burn as hot as it did so many years ago, as it did with the man who loved you when you were wide-eyed and twenty-five, it burns steadily now. It keeps you warm. And one day you start seeing rainbows again. One shines out your window at work. Another when you emerge from the grocery store. A double one fills up the entire sky when you’re having a glass of wine after a long day at the office. And that’s when you realize that your heart, beleaguered, weighed down with baggage of all kinds, is ready to try again. And so you do.”

Although the ending of the novel seemed to contradict and belittle this passage entirely, this one particular idea was very moving to me.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart