A Soothing Balm to Remedy Another Mediocre Reading Experience ~ #JNGReads

Just a quick update on this Sunday night!

I recently finished two novels.  The first, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton, I found to be very disappointing, dry and confusing.  For that reason, I decided to move right into re-reading an absolute favourite novel of mine, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, which, needless to say, took my heart in its clutches yet again.  Short reviews for both of these novels are below, if you’re at all interested.

Thank you for reading, as always! xo

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Oh dear.

I really wanted to like this book because I’ve been hearing about Kate Morton for so long and truly expected to be touched by her work. But, I had a lot of trouble following the threads of this story, and while certain chapters were interesting and touched me (such as the ones about Elodie in the beginning and those devoted to Juliet and her young children), I just didn’t ever feel that engrossed in the plot and I found my mind wandering on several occasions. Sadly, I think this story was just too disjointed, and the things that were promised, like romance and suspense, were sorely lacking. There also was no real sense of resolution, particularly with characters like Elodie and Jack, and I found myself confused as to the point of all of the characters. This story didn’t need to be as complex as it was and probably would have been easier to follow, better written and more enjoyable if characters like Elodie, Jack, Lauren, Ada, Leonard, Juliet and Tip were excluded (not to mention unnecessary side characters like Pippa, Alastair and Penelope). Basically, I wonder why, if this book is called The Clockmaker’s Daughter, it didn’t simply stick to her storyline and call it a day?!

Pretty disappointed with this one, unfortunately!

❥❥ (out of 5)

 

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

(Reading for the second time.)

Somehow, I thought that re-reading this novel, knowing what would happen, might make it a little easier…and yet, I feel like I could throw up right now at the end of it.

Somehow, knowing what Rhys is to Feyre from the beginning made their courtship, his evident uncertainty and longing throughout, that much more agonizing and heart-wrenching.  Somehow, remembering what would occur in the final chapters, how their bond would be severed (even if not truly), made me at once anxious and terrified to get to the end. Somehow, getting to spend more wonderful time with characters I have grown to love and think about almost every single day since encountering them for the first time made saying goodbye to them again, just moments, ago that much harder.

Re-reading a favourite book isn’t always easy, I guess…but somehow, sometimes, it just feels necessary.  It feels like coming home after a long day to a couch by a fireplace, in a townhouse surrounded by snow and night, and sitting curled up beside a dear old friend.

This novel touched my heart last year when I read it for the first time, and as my heart ached last weekend, I knew it was the one balm I needed to revisit.  For that, it will always get infinite stars (oh, how fitting!), from me.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Roar ~ #JNGReads

You can find more photos like this one on my bookstagram, Emerald & Opal.

I have to start this review with a disclaimer. The opinions that follow are simply my opinions about the short story collection Roar by Cecelia Ahern. If you particularly liked this collection, you may not enjoy this review.

I seriously considered not posting a review of Roar because, to be honest, I don’t have much that’s nice to say about it. Roar is a short story collection that I can understand why a lot of people like, particularly at this moment in history. The collection contains thirty stories about women and each one plays on a popular turn of phrase, image or metaphor. There is the woman who thinks her mirror is broken because she looks aged in it. There is the immigrant woman who literally grows wings and flies away, finally free. There is the woman whose husband keeps her on a shelf for the world to see and admire but not interact with. These ideas are certainly relevant, and Ahern plays on societal concerns that are on everyone’s minds and makes them into fairytales full of magical realism.

However, in my opinion, Ahern doesn’t do social commentary very well. While her stories make sense, they are not creative and they are, ultimately, very silly. These common phrases or metaphors, such as wanting to fall into a hole and die when something embarrassing happens, are definitely used in common speech on a daily basis, but they don’t make for good or interesting fiction. Each of these stories is full of oversimplification and they border on the nonsensical. While magical realism is meant to be a bit outlandish, Ahern’s tales are downright ridiculous, and I found myself laughing every so often at how absurd and literal they are. Everything is just too on the nose and it gets to be very annoying and irritating very quickly.

What’s more, Ahern spends a lot of her time pandering to her reader. Her stories are simplistic enough that they hardly need explanation, but Ahern still feels the need to spell out exactly what each symbol means in detail. When a woman has bite marks spontaneously appear on her skin in one story, after returning to work from maternity leave, it seems unnecessary to be given a sentence like, “The guilt was, quite literally, eating her alive”, italics and all. And yet, Ahern constantly offers these analyses of her own stories, and it made me feel as though I was being talked down to or not being trusted to draw my own conclusions and insights from this fiction. There are such wonderful female short story writers out there like Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant who write about women being trapped in their hometowns or about women feeling displaced and exiled in ways that are subtle and nuanced. Ahern doesn’t do this at all, and I personally found that her stories came across as childish and unsophisticated because of it.

Don’t get me wrong, there was one story I sort of liked – The Woman Who Forgot Her Name – but one story out of thirty isn’t at all what I was hoping for. In the end, I got very clearly what Ahern was trying to do…but I wished she had tried harder to do it better.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Saying Goodbye ~ #JNGReads Kingdom of Ash

◆MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! ◆

The fact that there is a brief cameo by Rhysand in Kingdom of Ash is all that needs to be mentioned to hint at how I felt about this book.  It was utter perfection!

I’ve spent the better part of this year with the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.  I started the first book right after coming home from my honeymoon in May, and I moved swiftly through the majority of the series before taking a tiny break and then finishing the rest of it.  Suffice it to say that many of the months of 2018 have been spent thinking about Celaena/Aelin and her court members and friends…and I can’t say I’m upset about that!

If you happened to read my review of The Assassin’s Blade (the prequel to the Throne of Glass series), you’ll know that I had a bit of a rough start with this story.  Unlike the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, which wowed me right from the first book and had me totally hooked, my experience with ToG was a bit more tumultuous in that I didn’t love the characters from the very beginning and found my mind wandering as I read many of the early books.  When I made my way to Heir of Fire, though, I started to become more intrigued, and then by the time I finished Empire of Storms…holy ****, I was shattered.  That book really clinched the series for me, and reading The Assassin’s Blade and then Tower of Dawn right after made me extremely fond of the characters, particularly of Aelin who does this complete 180 from how she was in the first few books – something that I personally appreciated!

What makes this series so special?  I don’t think I’m an authority on that, to be honest.  I read the entire series in one year, and while that made my experience very immersive and emotional, there are readers out there who began reading the series as soon as it came out six years ago.  That is A LOT of time to spend with such fictional friends, and I can’t imagine how much more devastated I would’ve been at the conclusion of this series if I had been reading it for so long because…to be honest…I’m devastated that it’s over even now.  I spent all of last year reading the ACOTAR series, but then, I had ToG to look forward to.  Now, I have nothing…well, at least until Sarah J. Maas releases her next novel!

Again, I’m no expert on this series, but it is one that I have seriously enjoyed and that I am thrilled to have read!  I’m a true and loyal fan of Aelin and her court now (Does my outfit for today – see below – make that clear enough?) and I do feel like I learned a lot from Aelin’s character about inner strength and fortitude and the lengths someone sometimes has to go to in order to protect the ones they love.  My reading life will be a little bit emptier now for having lost Aelin, but my own personality has certainly benefited from this lesson in perseverance and sacrifice.

I could go on and on, quoting scenes from Kingdom of Ash that I loved – I bookmarked almost every other page because it had a scene or passage that I liked – but what would be the point of that?  That would spoil it for you readers out there who are lucky enough to get to read it for the first time, and for those of you who have read it, I’m sure you already have your favourite passages anyway!  My one piece of advice to readers just starting Kingdom of Ash would be to take it slooow.  I spent over two weeks reading this novel, even though a book as big as 980 pages would normally only take me just over a week. But, I wanted to savour every moment, every sentence, and really soak it all in, and I am very happy that I chose to do that, because I am now left with a profound sense of having truly lived with these characters and said a thorough and proper goodbye to them.

ToG was an incredible ride and one that will make my 2018 reading year hard to top and even harder to forget!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

All hail the Queen of Terrasen!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Yours Truly ~ #JNGReads

I have to be totally honest and realistic here…I don’t think I’m going to be posting a book review for a while.

The reason for that is not at all that I’m going to be taking a step back from reading – quite the contrary, I am actually going to be reading a 980-page novel. That’s right, as soon as it came out on October 23rd, I leapt right into the world of Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas, the final installment in the Throne of Glass series.  Now, a nearly 1,000-page book would not necessarily take me that long to finish (especially because I usually try to read 100 pages per day), but with this one in particular, I want to take my time and revel in every moment spent with this book.  Although I had a nonchalant attitude toward the first few books in the Throne of Glass series, by Empire of Storms, I was hooked and I have been looking forward to Kingdom of Ash for months now.  So why rush it?  I certainly see no reason to, and so I’ll probably be a bit MIA on the blog for some time.  But, rest assured, I will definitely have lots of thoughts about Kingdom of Ash once I’m finished.

And, in the meantime, here’s a teeny tiny review of a book I finished earlier this week to tide you all over…

Yours Truly by Kirsty Greenwood

This novel should be a Hallmark movie.

It’s sugary sweet and adorable, and the narrator Natalie is an absolute riot. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and although it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read (or even the best chick lit. novel), it was definitely a great diversion.

I would definitely recommend it to fans of Sophie Kinsella, Sally Thorne, Gemma Townley and all those other writers of great, quirky romances!

❥❥❥(out of 5)

Thank you, as always, for stopping by!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Little Life ~ #JNGReads

It is hard to describe how reading A Little Life made me feel.  This novel is, to sum up 800+ pages in a single word, sorrowful.  There is nothing optimistic about this novel, there is no bright, shining kernel of truth that makes the trauma and sadness easier to swallow.  It is a novel full of pain and suffering, and one that almost wallows in it, not trying to lift the reader into any more positive circumstances.

I now understand more fully a word my professors in university often used to describe literature and our reactions to it: visceral.  I always knew in theory that a visceral reaction to a text implied great emotion and feeling, and meant that the reader had temporarily put aside their more intellectual assessments to let feelings overwhelm them.  I have always been this type of reader – one who favours emotion over logic, who prefers to talk about how I feel about a novel rather than dissecting it with scientific vigour – and I was always so happy when lectures in my English classes tended toward sentimentality rather than structured analysis.

But I don’t know that I’ve ever been quite so touched by a novel as I was by A Little Life.  Don’t get me wrong, I have read my fair share of upsetting novels in the past – The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson immediately comes to mind, and it does, actually, have a similar narrative style to A Little Life – but I haven’t read one so moving and painful in quite some time.  A Little Life follows the friendship of four men, but it zeroes in pretty quickly on the relationship (romantic and otherwise) between Willem and Jude.  Jude, as many reviewers before me have noted, is the heart and soul of the novel, though, and much of the text is devoted to investigating Jude’s childhood traumas, including a whole host of disgusting circumstances that made me physically nauseous to read about.  Reading Jude’s story is not for the faint of heart, especially as it documents in graphic detail horrific stories of childhood sexual abuse, and it is downright hard to read at points.  So many times, I felt like I wanted to stop reading, to put the book down, and yet I didn’t because for whatever reason I felt compelled to keep going.  That is surely a testament to how talented Hanya Yanagihara is as a writer, and there is no doubt that the prose flows and is highly poetic and beautiful.  There is such a jarring contrast between the subject matter and the gorgeous words Yanagihara uses to describe the events…but the result is that the reader is urged to move forward and, ultimately, does, even despite every instinct not to.

There’s not much I can really say about A Little Life without repeating myself endlessly (it is painful, sorrowful, sad, depressing, traumatic, serious, touching, heartbreaking…blah blah blah), so I’ll just leave it at, it’s brilliant.  Many reviewers have disagreed, and that is totally fine, but for me, it was a moving experience in every way and I feel like a better person for having read the story.  I am proud that I’ve read it as I feel it is a modern work of great literature, a contemporary classic, and I truly can’t find any fault with Yanagihara’s writing or characterization or pacing or any of it.  Yes, many readers have felt that the novel is too long and a bit repetitive, but I am a lover of Dickens and John Irving, and so I am used to meaningful repetition, to long novels that say much and say it so well.  So, I cannot fault Yanagihara for writing a large novel because, the bottom line is, she wrote a great one.

I would urge anyone who is okay with deep, thoughtful and heavy literature to pick this one up because it is a read you won’t soon forget.

“[H]e was worried because to be alive was to worry.  Life was scary; it was unknowable.  Even Malcolm’s money wouldn’t immunize him completely.  Life would happen to him, and he would have to try to answer it, just like the rest of them.”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up ~ What I’ve Read and Been Up to Recently

Hello and Happy Sunday, dear Readers! My apologies for not having a Weekly Round-Up for you last week.  I had every intention of posting a review for the book I finished two weeks ago last weekend, but I must admit, … Continue reading

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up ~ What I Read This Week

Happy Sunday, dear Readers!

I managed to finish two short novels this week. I wrote short reviews of both of them on Goodreads, but thought it would be a good idea to also post them here on the blog.

Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

I liked this book in spite of myself.

In spite of Gabby being snarky about 90% of the time.

In spite of the overuse of the words “dude” and “intellectually”.

In spite of the fact that there is a bisexual female lead character (finally!) who doesn’t get a single chance to express to the reader why or how she arrived at these feelings and this awesome sense of self-acceptance, even though that sort of storyline would have been 10 times more fascinating than the cliché 80’s movie one we got.

In spite of the constant fighting and immature bickering of the two best friends/pseudo-lovers.

In spite of a portrayal of anxiety that felt (to this reader who suffers from anxiety) to be oversimplified and that focused too much on Gabby blaming and hating herself for having a mental illness, rather than accepting it and choosing to love and take care of herself. And in spite of the use of the word “panicker” in place of “panic attack” (ew!).

In spite of the jarring timeline.

In spite of the strangely first person-esque third person narration.

And finally, in spite of my eventual realization, in the end, that nothing really happened at all and that the characters didn’t grow one bit.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects is:
Addictive | Thrilling | Unsettling | Upsetting | Traumatic | Chilling | Haunting | Gross | Emotional | Visceral | Grotesque | Disgusting | Sticky | Suffocating | Messy | Messed Up | Frightening | Fascinating | Terrifying

Many of these words might be written on main character Camille Preaker’s skin. Or, I should say more accurately, carved into. That image in itself portrays how graphic Sharp Objects is, and how much of the novel is truly felt by the reader, almost physically. Sharp Objects, but more particularly Camille Preaker’s narration, got under my skin and made me queasy and tingly, and I think the true power and profundity of Sharp Objects is not in its plot (which is quite a run of the mill murder mystery) but instead in its telling, in its characters and their flawed psychologies, in Camille’s unvarnished speech and honesty. Reading Sharp Objects felt like being confided in, even as so much of me wanted to run from the secrets and inner thoughts that were being revealed.
❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Have a lovely day and week ahead! xo

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Assassin’s Blade ~ #JNGReads the Throne of Glass Series

Check out the bookstagram page I share with my best friend, Emerald & Opal, to see more photos like this!

I feel like it’s time to finally put some thoughts on paper about a series that has recently taken my life by storm: the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. I recently finished reading the novella collection The Assassin’s Blade, which serves as a prequel to the series itself, and just before that, I finished Empire of Storms, which pretty much destroyed me. The only current novel in the series that I have left to finish is Tower of Dawn…that is, until the new novel is released in October. Considering that I am just about caught up in the series, I figured it was about time for me to say a few things about the series, through the lens of having just finished a prequel that made me think a lot about my journey with these characters.

Having said all of this, there may be some minor spoilers ahead for the entire Throne of Glass series, so please bear that in mind.

Probably the single most impressive thing, in my opinion, about the Throne of Glass series is the development of the characters and their relationships with one another. This is what has led me to write this review after reading The Assassin’s Blade because so much of that collection brings to the forefront just how far the characters have come by the time we reach Empire of Storms. In The Assassin’s Blade, we see Celaena Sardothien in a way that, having come as far as Empire of Storms, we haven’t seen her for some time. She is back to being Adarlan’s Assassin, an overly confident sassy-pants who is obsessed with refinement, comfort and her physical appearance. She comes across as a bit vapid, I’ll be honest, but there is also evidently some fight in her and a great deal of strength. She isn’t exactly likable though, and in many ways she’s the true opposite to someone like Feyre of Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses in that Celaena is a bit…well…spoiled.

Reading about this version of Celaena (believe me, there are many “versions” of this character) reminded me of my initial reaction to Throne of Glass which, to be honest, wasn’t a novel I loved. Although the series certainly picked up for me, it wasn’t until I hit Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows that I started to feel any affection for Celaena…and at that point, she had already become an entirely different character and reassumed her rightful identity as Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. I’ve noticed that Maas tends to like to do this with her characters, forcing them to make a total 180 shift, and Celaena certainly does that when she embraces the fact that she is the lost queen of Terrasen and accepts the responsibility associated with that. Aelin is similar to Celaena in some ways – she is fierce, cunning and skilled – but she is also so very different in that she is truly selfless. That much is clear by the (devastating!!!) end of Empire of Storms, and this transformation gave me not only a respect for Maas’ writing and creativity, but also for Aelin as a character. She has quickly become one of my favourite fictional heroines.

But how do we, as readers, reconcile the Aelin we know (and, in my case, love) by the end of Empire of Storms with the Celaena we found to be a bit of a mean girl in Throne of Glass and The Assassin’s Blade? Well, I think this is where the true power of the Throne of Glass series as a whole becomes clear. The series is the story of both Aelin Galathynius and Celaena Sardothien, and it is important to remember that these women are the same person. Who can say, though, that they have not changed at all over the years? Isn’t it normal for a person to grow and develop, especially in the face of trauma and adversity? So, why should Aelin/Celaena not undergo this same process – and why should older, wiser Aelin be judged for the actions and attitude of younger, less world-weary Celaena?

It was remarkable, to me, to see Celaena all over again in The Assassin’s Blade after journeying so far with Aelin. It really made me reconsider Celaena’s entire personality because I was much more sympathetic toward her while reading The Assassin’s Blade than I was when I first encountered her in Throne of Glass. That’s surely due to the gift of hindsight, but knowing what Aelin would go through in Empire of Storms, the sacrifices she would be forced to make by the end, I felt so sad for Celaena because I knew what was ahead in her future, from the salt mines of Endovier, to horrible battles against grotesque enemies, to…an iron mask and iron chains and an iron box that I’m still not even close to ready to talk about. Of course, Aelin also finds a lot of love (and heartache too) along the way, and it is glorifying to remember that she will eventually meet Rowan and share some beautiful moments with him…but everything is tinged with a bit of unease and melancholy, in the full knowledge that Celaena Sardothien, who puts so much time into her outfits and her hair and her nails, will very soon reach a point where none of that will matter even remotely.

Maas is a master of creating characters that stick with you. She made me, the reader who has never picked up Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, into a fantasy lover just by creating heroines that touched me so profoundly and made me care. Aelin is one of those heroines, no doubt, and I’ve found myself thinking of her nonstop, especially after finishing Empire of Storms, which literally haunts me. I assume that Maas’ intention in releasing The Assassin’s Blade was to make her readers reconsider Celaena from a whole new perspective, and to me, she achieved the mark and then some. I was heartbroken for future Aelin, but still uplifted for former Celaena, knowing that she would become this fearsome and fascinating and awe-inspiring woman to behold. That ride, that journey of watching a woman come into her own, was remarkable.

And, perhaps I’m over-reading things and wearing my English MA glasses for this one…but were there an absurd number of references to iron chains and doors in The Assassin’s Blade?! That cannot be coincidence, can it? Not cool, Sarah J. Maas, not cool!

Song Recommendation:

I feel this song accurately represents Aelin’s journey as a character…and so I’ve been listening to it non-stop – haha!

*College & Electric Youth – A Real Hero*

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ Summer #JNGReads

FALL IS HERE!!!

Okay, so technically Fall hasn’t officially begun yet, but there is a distinct chill in the air here in Toronto, and I wore a long-sleeved shirt yesterday for the first time in months…and life is good!

With this transition in seasons happening, I figured it was time to finally put an end to my summer initiative and share my 5 sentence reviews with you (you can read the post where I explain all about my plan to write these types of reviews here).

Before I get into the reviews, I do want to reflect on what I learned by challenging myself to write shorter, more succinct reviews for the final weeks of the summer. It was definitely both easier and harder to write smaller reviews. In some cases, I was relieved because I hadn’t liked or hated a particular book enough to go on and on about it; if I felt indifferent toward a book, I found a 5 sentence review to be the perfect length to get my thoughts out there and not grasp at straws for profound things to say. However, in a few cases, I really struggled to write a 5 sentence review because I just loved the book I had finished so much that it felt impossible to contain all of my feelings in just 5 sentences. In two cases, I verged from my strict 5 sentence rule to write reviews that were a bit more specific to the novels, and I actually really did not like one of these novels and absolutely ADORED the other one. I found this very telling because it made me think that 5 sentence reviews are not necessarily a bad idea, but that any sort of rigidity toward review writing is.

So, to sum things up, I think I will continue to occasionally write shorter (if not exactly 5 sentence) reviews, in cases where I don’t have too much to say about a book and writing a huge review about it would be purely self-indulgent. But, in cases where I feel very passionately, one way or the other, about a book, I will stick to my tried and true method of ranting and/or raving to my heart’s content.

Here you have it…the reviews for all of the books I have read recently…

THANK YOU FOR READING!!! xo

Origin by Dan Brown

Origin is a novel that I struggled with until about 3/4 of the way into it, and that failed to capture my attention from beginning to end in the same way that Dan Brown’s other novels have in the past. Perhaps this is my own fault and my personal reading preferences and interests have changed, but for whatever reason, I was unable to truly get into Brown’s story in Origin and I found my mind wandering as I read because I was not all that interested in most of the characters and found myself bored by any chapters that didn’t directly follow protagonist Robert Langdon and describe his “quest”. My interest was only really piqued in the final 100 pages of the novel, when Langdon and his companion Ambra Vidal started to actually piece together their friend scientist Edmond Kirsch’s discovery about human existence and destiny, and prior to these revelations and the solving of the story’s “mystery”, I didn’t really feel any eagerness to sit down with the novel. For that reason, I would have to say that Origin is my least favourite of Brown’s novels, mainly because the pacing felt off and the plot didn’t seem to kick off until well into the novel, or indeed, until it was almost concluded. That being said, Brown’s stories never fail to provide a variety of interesting facts on subjects as diverse as religion, science and pop culture, among others, and I still finished the book feeling that I had learned a lot…and so my time was not at all wasted in the end.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was a pleasant enough collection of correspondence, but I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. I do tend to like an epistolary story every now and then, and I was excited to delve into this book that I had heard so much about and had on my To-Read List for so long, but I just found in the end that I wasn’t wowed by it. Helene seems to be very sassy and witty, which I liked, and Frank and his colleagues at Marks & Co. bookshop are very sweet and made me nostalgic for my many trips to England, however I felt the collection was missing that extra bit of intimacy and emotion I was hoping for. When I compare it to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I read a few months ago, I find that 84, Charing Cross Road just misses the mark a bit because it won’t stay with me or leave a lasting impression on me, and I doubt I’ll remember or think of any of the people in it months from now. Overall, 84, Charing Cross Road is a sweet read, and one that can easily be finished in one sitting, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

Karen Swan is a marvel and I will read absolutely anything she writes! I went into this novel expecting a run of the mill travel romance and instead I got a surprisingly exciting thriller, fast-paced and full of intrigue. I was also met with a cast of complex and interesting characters, and although Chloe wasn’t my favourite heroine of all time, I immediately related to her job as a lifestyle manager to very high end clients (I also have a job where I meet with clients daily) and her age (I am also 26) and her overall life (I also live in a big city like New York, albeit it Canadian). There was lots for me to connect with in this novel, as there always is with Swan’s stories, but here I was even more blown away by the intricate plot and mystery as well as the heart-pounding romance. I would highly recommend this as a beach read, a cottage read, a plane read, whatever…just read this book!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

“How quickly does a fire fanned and fed by friends grow tall.”

The Passion of Dolssa is really an incredible book, full of rich descriptions and imagery, truly unique characters and a highly emotional plot. I was very familiar with the historical aspects of this novel before even reading it because I happen to have written an essay when I completed my Master’s degree on Julian of Norwich and on terminology used by nuns in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to describe Jesus as a lover or husband, and so Dolssa’s passionate, almost sexual “relationship” with Jesus was not at all a surprise to me. What did blow me away about Julie Berry’s novel, however, was the characters she so richly created, namely Botille and her sisters Plazensa and Sazia, and how fierce, strong, loyal and unafraid they were. I was truly astounded by these remarkable females, and although the plot was quite contained in terms of place and timeframe, I found myself becoming utterly swept up in it and I was actually on the edge of my seat while reading, wondering what would happen to Botille and Dolssa and their loved ones. Something about The Passion of Dolssa just touched me very viscerally, and I would highly recommend it as a well-crafted work of historical fiction.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

This book is good…but I expected it to be better. Although I found myself occasionally getting swept up in the narratives of both Serina and Nomi (sidenote: I did appreciate the alternating points of view), for the most part, I didn’t feel that the plot was fast-paced enough. I expected to get really emotional about the characters, to really feel for them and worry for them and to be on the edge of my seat throughout all 300 pages, but I just wasn’t and I think that comes down to the fact that much of the novel is spent with Serina and Nomi thinking about how awful their situations are without a lot happening to propel them forward. I appreciate that sometimes a novel is supposed to be very contained, but I think Grace and Fury was just too focused on a short period of time for my liking. In any case, I’d probably be inclined to pick up the next book in the series, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to do so.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This is another book that I thought was good…but not great, and not as good as I expected it to be. There’s no denying that the writing was beautiful and that Winman certainly has a way with words. However, when I picked up the book (mainly because of its gorgeous cover) and read the synopsis, I expected to be moved, to become very emotional and heartbroken, while reading it, and that simply didn’t happen. I will say that I enjoyed the second half of the novel, which was told in first-person narration from the perspective of Michael, much better, but overall I found it too difficult to connect to any of the characters, and particularly to care about or feel sympathy for Ellis. Not a disappointment, per say, because as I said, the prose was lovely…but definitely not all I was hoping for, especially from the last book I needed to read to finish off my 2018 Reading Challenge.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight

Since You’ve Been Gone is a sweet and enjoyable novel that I would highly recommend as a summer read! Truth be told, there’s not much to it as the plot is quite contained and the timeframe is quite short. Having said that, I felt really drawn to Holly as a narrator and found her voice to be witty and unique, and I found myself swooning over Ciaran at several points, which is always a must for me from any romantic hero. This wasn’t the best chick lit. novel I’ve ever read by any means, but it was a wonderful respite on my subway rides home from work and when I was curled up on the couch in the evenings, and I really don’t think there’s much more you can ask for from a summer book companion than a fun journey with some nice characters! I would definitely be inclined to pick up another story by Anouska Knight in the future.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Love… From Both Sides by Nick Spalding

Love… From Both Sides is definitely one of the funniest novels I’ve read in awhile, particularly because it had me laughing out loud in my local Starbucks. That being said, it was also a novel that made me feel incredibly conflicted and confused…and this is down to the fact that although certain scenes were excruciatingly hilarious, other lines and passages seemed, to me, borderline offensive. It’s difficult for me to reconcile the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing at times when I read this book with the opposing fact that entire sections of it made me cringe because they felt overtly stereotypical, and in some cases almost sexist (I am thinking, for example, of Jamie’s description of Clare, the “chunky lass” he works with…a description I found VERY unnecessary and uncalled for!). I still don’t know how to feel about this novel because if it weren’t for the fact that some of it rubbed me totally the wrong way, I would’ve been ranting and raving about it and probably given it 5 stars. For that reason, I can’t be sure if I would recommend it because you certainly need to have a thick skin and a very particular sense of humour to find 100% of it enjoyable.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

To be clear, I am definitely the target audience for The Victorian and the Romantic because I have a Master’s in English and I specialized in Victorian literature…and of course, like most academics, I considered for many years going on to do my PhD. I myself was interested in the works of female authors in the 19th century, mainly Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and so I knew I would relate personally to Nell Stevens’ recounting of her time studying Victorian literature – but what I didn’t anticipate was that so many of the lines she wrote would seem as though they were plucked straight from my own head. This is very much a memoir for a specific reader, one who is in love with classic literature but also disillusioned by the idea of studying it in a clinical, scientific manner, and not everyone will follow or relate to Stevens’ thoughts and frustrations. I did, however, and so I would certainly be inclined to read more of Nell Stevens’ work…and to be honest, I wish we could sit down for coffee and have a good rant, haha!

My Favourite Quote

“‘I’m not cut out to be an academic…I don’t think I care enough about the sorts of things academics care about….I like reading the writing of writers I love, and I like reading about writers I love. But I’m not sure I have anything additional to say about them. I think I’m more of an appreciative fan than a critic.’”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies by Laura Stampler

When I was in high school I would’ve devoured this novel…and to be honest, I did even now.

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies was the quintessential YA summer read, and it immediately brought me back to my experiences reading novels like Gossip Girl and The A-List back in high school, when I would speed through pages in the cafeteria before the first bell rang for class. I’m probably a bit too old to be reading a book about a high school senior who does an internship at a fashion magazine in New York over summer vacation, but I was so swept up in the voice of narrator Harper that I didn’t even care – she was too fun, witty and down-to-earth not to want to spend time with. This novel is simplistic and straightforward, and admittedly the ending is a bit rushed and a lot “Happily Ever After”, but everything about the plot was exciting and entertaining, and it was the sort of book you could easily finish in one sitting, under a big sunhat on the beach. If you’re looking for a novel that is flirty and just plain FUN, this is definitely your best bet!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

 

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

Things I Liked:

– Any and all mention of Paris, one of my favourite cities on the planet. Reading this brought me right back to my honeymoon in Paris, and I certainly needed that during a stressful week!

– The fashion!

– Bonnie : I don’t know how I would’ve reacted to what she went through, but I admired her poise and strength, and her composure at such a sad time. I doubt if I would handle that sort of infidelity so well!

– Antonio : I only wish there was more of him and less of certain other characters (more below).

Things I Didn’t Like:

– The plot, focused on infidelity and secrecy…this is a topic I struggle with and find it VERY hard to read about! An affair will basically ruin a book for me, and this book had more than one.

– Sammy : I don’t want to spoil things, but yeah, see the point above.

– Matthew : Don’t even get me started on this topic. He is, in my opinion, a total scumbag! (My apologies if this offends anyone, but I’m sensitive on this subject, and that’s just a personal opinion on my part.)

– Rachael : Kind of a big deal to not like the main character in a novel, but she was really hard for me to like at all. She came across as selfish and self-serving (yes, even despite what she did for her mother), and I did not appreciate her self-victimization. Compared to Bonnie, she had so much less integrity.

Honestly, I’ll leave it there lest I start to rant…but suffice it to say that Paris got all the stars in this case.

“‘Paris isn’t always great at first impressions. It’s the details that get under your skin.’”

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

I need to not talk to anyone about this novel for approximately the next 100 years.

My grandchildren will come to me one day and say, “Grandma, did you ever read the Throne of Glass series?” And I will reply, “I’m not ready to talk about it.”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ A New Challenge ~ #JNGReads

I came across a comment recently on a Goodreads review that I was reading which made me a little bit nervous. This comment was from someone who had read the review I was also reading and it said something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “This review was so great and the perfect length! So many reviews on here are too long and I’m like, TL;DR!” After searching what exactly this abbreviation meant – it turns out, it means, “Too Long; Didn’t Read” – I went back to check the length of the review, which ended up being around one small paragraph.

This immediately struck me as interesting. I’m one of those people who feels that my reviews have to be super long, otherwise they won’t seem legitimate. Oftentimes, I will finish a book and set to work to right a brief review (sometimes at like 10:00 at night), and soon enough I find that I’ve written two entire pages of thoughts and feelings about whatever novel I’ve just finished. I thought this was a good thing for the longest time because it made me feel like the review was worthy of posting on my blog or Goodreads, but this comment that I found gave me pause because it made me think that perhaps my reviews are so long that no one wants to read them. This upset me somewhat, but I also recognized the validity of it because I myself often skim really long reviews, rather than reading them conscientiously.

So, all this to say that I decided that it was time to challenge myself and make a bit of a change. For this reason, I’ve chosen to start a new initiative for the rest of the summer in which I will be trying my hardest to only post a 5 sentence review for each novel I read until the end of August. This is going to be extremely challenging for me because I tend to be pretty verbose (as I’m sure you already know), but I think it will be a useful exercise in developing my writing skills and making sure that my reviews are concise and meaningful. I also want to see if I get more interaction on Goodreads with these shorter, more bite-sized reviews, and I think this is a worthwhile experiment.

For that reason, you may notice longer than normal times between my reviews this summer – it’s likely that I’ll combine a few reviews into a larger “Summer Book Reviews” post, so that my post is more worthwhile to read than a mere 5 sentence paragraph. All that being said, if you’re interested in becoming my friend on Goodreads, you’ll be able to see all of my 5 sentence reviews in real-time, as they go up. And, I am really excited to give this a try because, of course, writing something short and sweet is easily as difficult (if not moreso) as writing something long and elaborate, and is a serious skill in its own right…this isn’t my forte whatsoever, so I’m curious to give it a try – wish me luck!

Let’s start, then, with my first 5 sentence review, for a book I just finished today…

180 Seconds by Jessica Park

180 Seconds is a novel that totally blew me away and was so unexpectedly enjoyable that I nearly finished it in its entirety in one day, and stayed up way past my bedtime on a Sunday night to do so. The relationship developed between Allison, a scarred young woman who has suffered throughout her life at the hands of the foster care system, and Esben, a social media savant, is well-paced and full of witty and flirtatious banter as well as heartfelt moments of personal growth and maturity. I was particularly struck by how Jessica Park tackles the prevalence of social media in our current culture, and emphasizes the positive results that can come by being so connected to the world around us and to individuals from all different walks of life. Although there were bitter and sad moments throughout the novel, the message was overall incredibly uplifting, and each one of the characters, from the main characters (Allison and Esben) to the secondary characters (Steffi, Simon, Kerry) undergo significant and realistic/human changes. I would highly recommend this novel to millenials who are curious about how to use social media to its full potential, but also to romance readers who are interested in a unique take on how social media can strengthen interpersonal relationships.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart