Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Snorer & A Scorcher ~ Two Reviews of Recent Reads

☼ Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald ☼

This novel really lost momentum for me around the 300-page mark. Prior to that, I was intrigued and interested enough by it, but at that point, my patience started to wane.

I initially would’ve compared this novel to ones like A Prayer for Owen Meany and Middlesex, which have always been among my favourites, but as I kept reading, I realized the main reason why I couldn’t enjoy Fall On Your Knees quite as much was because I didn’t like or feel connected to any of the characters. I don’t mean to say that you always have to like a character to like the book they are a part of, but in this particular case, I strongly dislikedall of the characters and so I found my desire to read about them faded pretty quickly. Whereas in classics like Owen Meany and Middlesex, I felt an immediate connection to Owen, Johnny Wheelwright and Cal Stephanides, in Fall On Your Knees I actually found myself hating almost everyone. James was despicable to me in so many ways, Kathleen was stuck-up and annoying, and Frances and Mercedes had almost no redeeming qualities. The one thing I did appreciate was Materia’s Lebanese heritage because, being half Lebanese myself, it was nice to be able to recognize the different foods she was cooking and some Arabic words here and there. But that wasn’t enough to make me interested in this family and I felt no sympathy for them whatsoever, even though I’m sure I was meant to feel some.

I also feel very similarly about this novel as I did after finishing Love In The Time of Cholera in that I think I would’ve appreciated it much more if I had read it when I was in university. There were undeniably a lot of profound themes and ideas at play in Fall On Your Knees, but I simply wasn’t in the mood to investigate and analyze all of them, and instead would’ve preferred a more classically entertaining plot. This has everything to do with the place I’m at right now in terms of my reading preferences, so I do feel that maybe if I had read this novel a few years ago, at the height of my studies, I might’ve been a lot more impressed by what it had to offer.

I wouldn’t say this was a terrible book by any means because it was very well written, but I grew more and more irritated with it as it went on, and today I woke up just wanting to be done with it. I think the best, most magical books will make a reader never want to stop reading them, and that unfortunately wasn’t something I experienced in this case, as disappointed as that makes me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

☼ Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren ☼

Ah, Christina Lauren at it again, delivering another absolute scorcher! Entertaining, sexy and fun, Beautiful Stranger is the quintessential beach read and perfect for these fiery summer days!

I have to say, I’ve become rather obsessed with the Beautiful Bastard series this year, and I can’t say I’m mad about it. The series has been on my radar for some time, and I especially felt the urge to delve into it last year when I fell in love with the final novel in the collection, simply titled Beautiful. But, for some reason, it took me awhile to actually get to Beautiful Bastard and kick off a proper read of the series – I am sooo glad I did though because it has to be one of the most enjoyable romance series I’ve ever encountered and I am a big fan of Christina Lauren’s style of romance writing.

Beautiful Stranger did not disappoint as the second official book in the series (not including the novella Beautiful Bitch that falls chronologically before it and is also a lot of fun), and I was already a fan of Sara from her appearances in Beautiful Bastard. I’m all for the strong, powerful, driven heroines that Christina Lauren always seems to create, and Sara is no exception to this rule as the head of Finance at Ryan Media Group. She has a good head on her shoulders (even if I was frustrated with some of her philosophies – more on this below) and I could really relate to her as a character. I also quickly became obsessed with Max Stella, the swoon-worthy Brit who acts as this novel’s male lead. Although a bit of a player in the past, Max comes across as charming and endearing and kind from the very start of the novel…I never had any doubts about him or worries for Sara, and I just felt like he was trustworthy and warm and gooey on the inside from the first moment he was introduced. He seems like an all-around genuine character, which is really refreshing for the romance genre, and I was shipping him and Sara without hesitation from the moment they locked eyes on each other.

This leads me to my one main source of frustration with this novel: the main romantic obstacle. The plot of Beautiful Stranger centres around the fact that Sara has recently moved to New York after breaking up with a politician in Chicago who was cheating on her for the entirety of their 6-year relationship (this is something that is alluded to in Beautiful Bastard). Sara is, quite understandably, torn up after this experience and she finds it really hard to trust Max, choosing instead to ask him for a more casual relationship that involves a steamy encounter once a week and nothing more. While I can appreciate Sara’s reluctance to let someone into her heart, I also found myself rolling my eyes slightly at this. I myself am not a big believer in “the rebound”. I first met my husband only 3 or 4 weeks after he had broken up with his ex-girlfriend, and so many people asked me if I was worried about being a rebound. My husband had actually sworn off dating for awhile after ending things with his ex, but for whatever reason, after seeing and chatting with me, he decided to throw that resolution out the window and ask me for my phone number. So, I probably had ample reason to be wary and suspicious, but I just wasn’t. Instead, I decided to go with the flow, see where things took us, and not deny this immediate spark that was set off between us. Now, 5 and a half years later, we are very happily married and expecting our first child, so I cannot be more grateful that my husband decided to enter into a relationship so soon after his last one, and that I myself gave him that chance. I’m not saying that someone in Sara’s position should just rush out to start seriously dating a guy after what she’s endured, but I did find it odd that Sara was so reluctant to even have dinner with Max or communicate with him throughout the week. It all seemed a bit over-the-top to me, but of course, there always has to be some kind of obstacle in these sorts of romance novels, and it didn’t take Sara and Max too long to admit to their true feelings, so I wasn’t overly put off. I was more eager for them to just get over their hang-ups already, because I knew they eventually would anyway.

All in all, Beautiful Stranger was a very pleasurable read and I am so looking forward to continuing with this series as soon as I can get my hands on the next couple books!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dead Husband Project ~ #JNGReads

“Rare to see people so raw, so exposed, reality stripped bare like that.”

I really don’t have much to say about The Dead Husband Project…because it is brilliant and anything I say about it will pale in comparison to what it actually is.

I picked up Canadian author Sarah Meehan Sirk’s collection of short stories on an absolute whim. I hadn’t heard of it, or her, before seeing the book in Chapters one day and being taken by the gorgeous cover, dark black sprayed with beautiful flowers of rich reds and blues. I wasn’t intending to buy a second book on this day, but I turned to my fiancé and said, I have to have that book – look how beautiful it is! Little did I know that the words inside were even more beautiful.

Short stories are not easy to write…believe me, I’ve tried. There is something so difficult and daunting about writing a short story, about trying to create a vast story that will fully engross a reader in a very limited amount of pages. Each word in each sentence of a short story is so very important because there aren’t that many of them available to tell a particular tale, and the short story writer must have a grasp of language akin to that of a poet – words and images must be chosen with the utmost care and never wasted. There are extremely few writers, in my opinion, who have mastered the short story genre, who have been able to make me feel things in the span of 40 pages that most 400 page novels have not, and these are the writers that I have always revered and looked up to, that I have tried to emulate in my own writing. Munro. Gallant. And now, Sirk.

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a genius. Her writing absolutely blew me away. When I’ve reviewed short story collections in the past, I’ve given ratings to individual stories, but I can’t do that in this case. Suffice it to say that there are not enough stars on Goodreads or on the planet to rate The Dead Husband Project. It is, for me, at the caliber of Munro’s Runaway (quite possibly the greatest short story collection ever published), and considering that it is Sirk’s first publication, I am incredibly eager to see what she will produce next. I would be really hard-pressed to pick a favourite story from The Dead Husband Project because literally every single one touched me and left me awe-struck. Sirk’s subjects are at once creepy and realistic, her protagonists flawed in character but flawlessly characterized. There are stories that are so inexplicably bizarre that you can’t help but ruminate on them for hours after finishing them, and there are those that are so sad and heart wrenching that you want to forget them as soon as you flip the last page. There is such vivid and pure human emotion in these stories that it is both painful to read them and impossible not to. Sirk knows something that few others do about human nature: she knows how to inhabit it, how to get into the minds of the most varied and peculiar personages, and she is clearly comfortable exploring sentiments that most humans try to ignore or deny.

If I had to pick stories that stood out from this collection (not favourites mind you because, as I said, I loved them all), well I wouldn’t want to because they are all so heavy hitting, but I could. “Barbados” haunted me for miles after I exited the subway, where I read it. It left me breathless and anxious and scared. It made me feel like my past could and would come back to snatch me up and suffocate me, as it does for so many of Sirk’s main characters. It made me afraid of former versions of myself and of the probably foolhardy decisions they had made. “In the Dark” left me raw and vulnerable. It painted such a true and realistic portrait of anxiety that it made me introspective. It forced me to examine my own anxieties and fears, and view them from an outside perspective, one that was a little less understanding and a bit more cynical. It made me see what other people, those who aren’t quite as compassionate and don’t live inside my head, might see when they look at me. “The Date”…that story I find very difficult to talk about. It left me feeling physically ill and petrified. My severe childhood fear of robots notwithstanding, this story opened my eyes to the dangers of technology, to the tumultuous and traumatic future we might all be headed towards. It made me look at love differently, it made me consider new forms of love that might spring up in decades to come, and the new forms of acceptance they will require and necessitate.

Reading The Dead Husband Project left me irrevocably changed. I am a different human for having read it, not necessarily better but in no way worse. The best description would be to say that it damaged me, it scraped me down to the core, it turned me inside out and made my heart race with exhilaration and nerves and excitement. It was one of the most all-encompassing, disturbing and visceral reading experiences I have had in recent years, and it has left me with much to contemplate.

The Dead Husband Project is not for the faint of heart because it will shock and overwhelm you. But, oh, is it ever worth it because it is one of the most riveting and powerful pieces of literature I have ever encountered. An absolute must read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

What’s The Buzz? The Most Underrated Books (…in my opinion!)

Recently, I was on Goodreads, about to add a fellow reader with similar bookish interests to mine as a friend when I was bombarded by his Friend Request Question. I think these questions are a lot of fun (I set one for my profile too) because it gives you a chance to immediately get to know the person you’re becoming friends with, and gain some insight into their reading habits and preferences. I also enjoy answering these questions because they get me thinking about my own love of books and different genres that I’ve encountered.

This particular Goodreads user’s question was very challenging, though! It asked:

What underrated book would you recommend?

For the life of me, I could not think of an underrated book to recommend, which struck me as really peculiar! I don’t think my reading preferences are all that cliché or common, and while I definitely enjoy checking out buzzworthy books, I also like to pick up novels that are more obscure and not as mainstream. Nothing came to mind when I was faced with this question, however, and so I decided to dig into my Favourites Shelf to garner some ideas…and in so doing, I discovered a bunch of underrated or unappreciated (in my opinion!) novels that I thought I should be listing and recommending here on my blog as well. I was reminded of a bunch of stories I read that I haven’t seen many other people picking up, and it struck me as a darn shame! So, with that said, here is my list of a few underrated or less popular books that I ADORED and recommend to anyone who’s looking for something new and unexpectedly awesome to read…

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, to be perfectly honest, but one book that totally blew me away was Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This could have a lot to do with the fact that my fiancé was born in Iran, but I think it has more to do with Nafisi’s very unique approach to non-fiction: she describes her struggles, and those of many women living in Iran, through the lens of various literary works she secretly read during her time living in the Middle East. It was absolutely fascinating to rediscover novels I had read and enjoyed through the eyes of a woman living in a much less liberal and open-minded society, and I learned a great deal about Persian culture and the troubled Iranian government through the guise of literature.

Acclaimed Theatre

There is no play out there that has touched me as much as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Yes, I know this play is extremely popular and critically acclaimed, but I would say that it is underrated because I just don’t know of many readers who rush to pick up theatre. I have never been more moved by a story than I was by Angels in America though, and it touches on such a variety of topics like religion and sexuality and politics, that there is truly something in it for everyone! There are so many great lessons to be learned from this text and I am convinced that anyone who picks it up and delves into it becomes a better person for it!

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

There’s no doubt that Alice Munro is the ultimate short story writer, and she is undoubtedly my favourite. However, I am equally a fan of fellow Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant, and her collections Montreal Stories and Varieties of Exile are forever favourites of mine. Gallant’s style is very similar to Munro’s in that she focuses on the ordinary and mundane, but highlights the extraordinary and interesting about it. She takes the most everyday activities and characters, such as a woman commuting to work on the subway, and infuses them with a special quality that immediately connects the reader to them. Plus, her use of language is gorgeous and very similar to Munro’s, so if you are a fan of Alice Munro, I guarantee you will love Gallant’s short fiction as well.

Poetry from the Distant Past

Poetry is probably the literary genre I have the least amount of experience with, and most of my reading of poetry has been for literature courses rather than for pleasure. Having said that, I have encountered some truly EPIC poems in my day (I’m think of a certain Paradise Lost, as an example) and one of my favourite, lesser appreciated long poems is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is the quintessential medieval tale, with references to King Arthur and his valiant Knights of the Round Table, and although I had to study it for a class, I absolutely fell in love with the tale and with the adventure and, of course, with chivalrous Sir Gawain. This is definitely a fun one and it is so easy to get swept up into the tale!

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

Why not throw a picture book on this list? Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a story I grew up having read to me and is probably the first book I ever encountered in my life. It is touching and moving and lovely, and I swear, everyone needs to read it to their kids. It’s a classic, in my opinion!

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, EVERYONE should read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It treats the same subject matter as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, to me, is a far superior novel. It is deep and engrossing, and the main character Sam Kingston is easily relatable but also hopelessly flawed. I can’t say enough good things about this novel, and the film adaptation (starring Zoey Deutch) is equally good! If you only pick up one book from this list, make it this one!

Heartbreaking Romance

If I say too much about The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris, I will cry. It is a tearjerker in every sense of the word, but it is also a uniquely structured and stylized romance. The way it is written makes it truly stand out (by focusing on telling the stories of different first kisses between the two main characters), and I have it on my list of favourite novels of all time…considering that I’m a big rom-com reader, this should tell you something, since it clearly stands out!

Midnight Mystery

Although The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is technically a Victorian novel, it is the ultimate mystery that I think rivals stories told my Agatha Christie and more contemporary mystery writers. It is a story that instantly draws the reader in, with its family politics, deceptions and unreliable narrators, and there are so many different narratives that it never gets boring. The reader is swept up in a mystery that is genuinely difficult to solve, what with all the competing theories swirling around between the many characters, and it is a truly fun and suspenseful ride. I adore this novel and I’ve read it several times…knowing the end result doesn’t even phase me because the ride is the best part!

Haunting Historical Fiction

I’m going to label The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson a historical fiction novel, although it also contains fantastical elements and is a contemporary novel, so really it fits into three categories. Whatever genre it is, it is without doubt one of the best novels I have EVER read, and this is all down to the remarkable narrator. He’s so flawed, complex and complicated, at once detestable and so loveable, and I was so moved by this novel that it has left a permanent mark on my heart. It’s an emotional and troubling story, but it is so worth the read because it will truly blow you away! HIGHLY recommend this one!

Crazy Classic

Jude the Obscure is one messed up novel…but what else do you expect from an author like Thomas Hardy? I have a lot of favourite Victorian novels, and there are other novels by Hardy that I prefer, but Jude the Obscure is totally underrated in that barely anyone reads it, as far as I know. Readers are more inclined to pick up Tess of the D’Ubervilles (and with good reason, of course), but they forget about Jude entirely even though it seems to be Hardy’s darkest novel. Honestly, I can’t even explain some of the crazy stuff that happens in this book, but it is just so dark and gothic and really worth picking up if you’re into classics.

And finally…

Oh Canada!

Being the extremely proud Canadian I am, I had to include an underrated Canadian novel on this list, and I chose The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables, and I have huge respect for that story, but in my opinion, The Blue Castle is just better. It is more adult and sophisticated, and it also features this indomitable and fierce female character, Valancy Stirling (what a great name, eh?), who I instantly fell in love with! She actually became a role model for me and I admit that I think about her often when I’m in social or professional situations that require me to have a bit more backbone than usual. I don’t think many readers know about this novel and that is a serious shame because it is at once hilarious and profound and entertaining. And, talk about girl power, because Valancy knows how to hold her own, no matter who she is up against…I LOVE IT!

Let me know in the comments below if you plan to pick up one of these underrated novels…or if you already have, let me know what you thought and if you too would recommend it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Alias Grace – #JNGReads

If you watched my Instagram story from the beginning of this week (I don’t have Snapchat, so I actually found it kind of fun to use the new Instagram story feature!), you’ll know that I finally finished Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I recently wrote a blog post about the difficulties I was having getting into the story and acclimatizing to Atwood’s often tricky narrative voice, but I am happy to say that I grew to really enjoy the novel and I am quite happy that I stuck it out and read all the way to the end. According to Goodreads, I started reading the novel on July 19th, so it took me just under a month to finish it, which is not bad for a 550+ page novel, especially considering the fact that I work full-time.

Here’s a more comprehensive review of my thoughts on Alias Grace

Alias Grace is a very interesting and thought-provoking novel, and I would probably say that it is my favourite Atwood work that I have read to date. Although I struggled in the beginning, for about the first 100 pages, with the writing style (for example, the lack of quotations and proper punctuation during Grace’s narration) and with all the details that seemed arduous and much too wordy, I really developed a feel for the story as I delved further into it, and I became accustomed to Grace’s manner of speaking and to the various narrative voices that Atwood employs. I also started to become more invested in the plot, and I put on my own detective hat for a while, trying to piece together the information about the murders of Nancy Montgomery and Thomas Kinnear. As I reached the point in the novel when Dr. Jordan listens to Grace’s narrative about her life and the events surrounding the murder, I was able to start to investigate my own feelings about Grace and speculate about her degree of guilt. I haven’t reached any definitive conclusions, even after finishing the entire story and allowing myself to consider each point of view, but I will say that I don’t think Grace’s involvement in the murders is clear cut and I don’t know that I think she is entirely guilty or innocent there is certainly some grey area in between, and I believe Grace inhabits that space.

Probably my favourite aspects of the novel were the portrayal of Grace’s complex personality and psyche, as well as the description of the setting…

Grace Marks is a remarkable and fascinating woman. I know that Atwood based as much of the novel as possible on fact, and I do understand why 19th century individuals would have been intrigued by Grace’s story and would have lined up to see her. I am very conflicted about my feelings toward Grace – as I said above, I don’t know if I believe her to be solidly guilty or innocent, and I do think she made several very poor decisions during her time working for Thomas Kinnear. There were undeniably moments when she could have revealed James McDermott’s plan and saved herself from becoming an accomplice to murder (if that was in fact her only role in the crime). However, even despite the ambiguities surrounding her involvement, I found myself empathizing with Grace and feeling sorry for her. She had a rough, uncomfortable childhood, especially during her immigration to Toronto, and she was forced to become an adult at a very early age and learn to provide for herself. This ultimately led to her employment at Kinnear’s home, and I think she felt reluctant to leave her position, even when there was suspicious activity, because she felt as though she didn’t have a home to call her own. She was a woman, or a girl rather, trapped in unfortunate circumstances… And I do mean trapped. I don’t think Grace had any other choice but to be in the position she was in, as her options were very limited, and I cannot imagine being a girl of the age of 15 or 16 who has no family, friends or even acquaintances to rely on or receive advice from. It’s my opinion that Grace got mixed up in a bad situation because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time…but I also believe that Grace had no other option and that she would have ended up in dangerous circumstances regardless of whose house she worked at. Having said all that, I can understand why Atwood was haunted by Grace because I feel that she must’ve been severely misunderstood in her time, and I think it is a testament to Atwood’s immense skill as a writer that she took the time to thoroughly research Grace’s life and document its details with impressive accuracy.

As far as Dr. Jordan goes, in terms of other main characters, I found him to be a complex character mainly because he was often very hypocritical and ended up totally surprising me with his actions toward his landlady Mrs. Humphrey. I thought I had Dr. Jordan’s identity pegged at the beginning of the novel, as a studious and lonely doctor, but many other layers of his personality were revealed, and it turns out that I didn’t really know him at all. He had a much more sinister side than I ever could’ve expected, and while this caused me to respect him less, I found him to be a more interesting character because of it.

The greatest source of interest, for me, in the novel was the treatment and description of Toronto and its surrounding areas, including Richmond Hill (where Thomas Kinnear lived). I found it fascinating to read about my own city and imagine what it was like in the 19th century. Although this novel is not at all written in the Victorian style, it does describe the 19th century in vivid detail, and I often lost myself in imagining the streets of Toronto in a completely different light. I also felt the urge, after finishing my reading, to visit some of the sites mentioned in the novel. I wonder if Thomas Kinnear’s house still stands in Richmond Hill and if his and Nancy’s graves can still be found at the Presbyterian Church. I wonder if the streets I walk on my way to work or during daytrips downtown are the same ones that Grace Marks walked. And if I ever visit the Kingston Penitentiary, will I see the very spot where James McDermott was hanged? There’s nothing quite like reading about a familiar setting and experiencing this discomfort when it becomes unfamiliar and unrecognizable to you. I think it informed my understanding of Toronto’s history to get a glimpse into what it was like to live here 200 years ago.

I have heard that Alias Grace is being made into a TV series, and I think that is a great idea. 550+ pages is a lot to get through, especially when the writing is so dense, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not being able to undertake the challenge. But Grace’s story, and particularly Atwood’s treatment of it, is very unique, and I think many people would find the plot interesting and intriguing. I’ll definitely be giving the show a try.

Finally, I should mention my least favourite aspect of the novel… Any and all reference to Susanna Moodie. Her text Roughing it in the Bush was the bane of my existence in university, and I cannot shake this sense that she was an incredibly annoying woman!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

So Far, Not Good

I’m in probably the worst position an avid reader can be in right now…

I am not enjoying my current read.

If you follow along with me on Twitter or Goodreads, you’ll know that I started reading Margaret Atwood’s Victorian-esque novel Alias Grace last week. My choice to read this book was completely random: I had just finished Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and I didn’t have a clue what book I would read next; I saw Alias Grace sitting on my bookshelf and impulsively picked it up, placing it in my work bag to begin reading on the bus the next day. Alias Grace did NOT come highly recommend, however; my brother eagerly gave me the book after completing his Canadian Literature class this past year. He hadn’t actually read it because it seemed “too long and boring”, so he thought he would just dump it on me for my blog. Not exactly a stellar review, eh?

I have to preface everything I am about to say by admitting that Canadian Literature is not my favourite. I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this on the blog before (I’ve actually been writing this thing for so long that I sometimes forget what I’ve told you all – imagine that!), but my mark in my Canadian Literature class from second year university is a black spot on my academic record that I will never recover from. Okay, I actually got a good mark by most people’s standards – it was a B+ if you must know – but considering that it is the ONE B amongst all the other A’s I achieved in 5 years of study (including my Master’s), I think it’s fair for me to be a little bit upset about it. (*Overachiever problems, clearly!) I also stand by the fact that I deserved a higher mark because the essays I wrote for that class were among my favourite in my entire academic career. I’m convinced the TA had something against me and my writing style, but I have yet to prove this – it was also very gratifying to take classes with this same TA during my Master’s and realize that my opinions were in fact just as valid as his. Anyway, I digress, no need to get more enraged by this. The point is, although I love the short stories of Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, and I have enjoyed a Canadian read here and there, it’s not my absolute favourite style of literature.

Now, in theory, that has nothing at all to do with Alias Grace, which does take place in Ontario but which is set in the 19th century. I mean, we all know that is a time period I am very interested in, and it should be fascinating to read about how my favourite era played out in my own country. It should be fascinating, but, if I’m honest, I’m not finding the story all that fascinating just yet. Actually, no, I shouldn’t say that – the plot itself is very cool: the story investigates the life of Grace Marks, a housekeeper turned murderess who kills her employer and fellow housekeeper in cold blood. Yeah, I think that sounds intriguing too!

However, here’s another startling admission: I am not a fan of Margaret Atwood’s writing. I have read many of her works, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale in high school, then onto some of her short stories in the aforementioned Canadian Literature class, and even including her novel Cat’s Eye which I read randomly one summer. So I’m experienced with Atwood’s writing style. The issue is that I don’t particularly like it – her stories are interesting enough, but her writing seems so dry to me, and Alias Grace is especially written in a sort of catalogue or documentary style. I’m really struggling to get through it for that reason. It feels a lot like homework to read this novel, which is not exactly what I was looking for in a summer read.

The problem is, everyone seems to be excited about me reading this novel. Everyone and their mother is liking my Goodreads status or Tweets about it, so obviously enough people think it is a good book. I’m just not there yet, and the thing is almost 600 pages, so I’m hoping my opinion changes really soon.

Here’s the question: keep plugging away or give up now while I still can? I’ve never been a quitter, so I think I need to give this one a more solid effort!

Wish me luck!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Something Strange – A Bit of a #ThrowbackThursday

I recently had a few spare hours on my hands, while sat at a computer and without my paperback novel on me.  I wanted desperately to read something, to lose myself in a story, but because I didn’t have my physical novel with me, I didn’t think it would be possible to get any reading done.

Then, I had a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself: I decided to look up my favourite short story writers online to see if any of their works had been featured in online publications.  I should qualify this by saying that my two favourite short story writers of all time are my fellow Canadians, Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant.  These two incredibly talented women (I mean, Munro did win the Nobel Prize in Literature recently) have had works in numerous publications, so I figured one or two of these would be floating around online.  And, much to my satisfaction, they were!

I ended up reading a short story by each of my favourite ladies: “Train” by Munro and “Florida” by Gallant.  And, let me tell you, they were both seriously strange!  I thoroughly enjoyed each of them and I was immediately sucked into the literary voices I knew so well and craved at the moment.  But, I still don’t know what to make of these stories at all, and I’m not even entirely sure what they were about, if anything… I’m just quite confused, to be honest.

“Florida” was the more random story of the two.  It followed a French Canadian mother visiting her son at his new home in Florida.  Honestly, that’s about all I can say on the subject – the relationship between the mother and son is tense and strained at best, but it’s such a short story that it’s kind of impossible to get a sense of why exactly that is.  It’s definitely possible that this story was later expanded and I just got to read an excerpt, but from what I read, it seemed like a simple slice of life narrative, an uncomplicated account of that odd stage of parenthood when a child has branched off on their own and become an adult that isn’t altogether a person you’re proud to have created.  It was awesome to read a story by Gallant because I totally idolize her work, but this story wasn’t as poignant or touching to me as something like “Varieties of Exile”.  It didn’t leave a lasting impression on me, BUT it did solidify just how brilliant Gallant is for being able to come up with a story about something so mundane and realistically human.

“Train” was a bit more profound and had a greater message, but, as with most Munro stories, it seemed so random as well.  It never ceases to amaze me that Munro can start a story in one mood, voice or location and with one apparent focus, and then totally shift gears pages later and move the story in a totally unexpected direction.  “Train” did exactly that – I thought I had a grip on the characters, their relation to each other, their histories, and then all of a sudden, Munro pulled a 180 on me and I was left reevaluating everything I had come to believe.  The plot follows a young man named Jackson, who I actually thought was going to be a more minor character.  For half the story, I thought he was more of a catalyst to the experiences of the female character, Belle, and then, in the second half of the story, I realized that everything actually centres on Jackson’s life after all.  Not to mention, Munro introduces an entirely different female character at that point, and the two women are seemingly unconnected to each other, except for the string that is Jackson between them.  So, the story went from being an interesting tale about a female farmer to a detailed analysis of a troubled character who has created multiple identities for himself and who is reluctant to become attached to any people or circumstances.  It was truly fascinating!  Although it isn’t my favourite Munro story by any means (“Tricks” will always and forever hold that title for me), it was classic Munro in the sense that it spun a tale that was truly unique and mind-bending.

And that’s where we get to the Throwback Thursday element of this post: I first encountered Gallant and Munro when I was in my second year of university and took a Canadian Literature class.  While I turned out to not love the class for a variety of reasons, I fell in love with these two authors and I have been moved and inspired by their work ever since.  As I sat at my computer and read through these two short stories, I felt instantly transported back to the library at University College (part of the University of Toronto), a library that I’ve always adored for its gothic, quiet and serene atmosphere.  I vividly remember sitting in this library, at a tiny desk in an even smaller alcove, reading page after page of Canadian literature.  I always seemed to find myself at this library at night, and I was overcome by a feeling of warmth, contentment and peace on each occasion.  As I read these short stories that I had never encountered, just a few days ago, I felt nostalgic for the student I was, for the days when I had infinite hours to read, and for those courses that pushed me to discover new writers, new voices and new tales to take my breath away.

Here’s hoping I will always be that exact same reader, and always crave the voices of my favourite author-friends!

JNG

Girl with a Green (and forever Canadian) Heart

my green heart

Crickets and Christmas

The word “Crickets” from the title of today’s blog post refers to the book I just finished reading. The word “Christmas” refers to the book I will shortly begin…again. To begin with the metaphorical crickets, I’ve just finished reading A … Continue reading