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

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Full Hearts – #JNGReads

“Molly went upstairs very happy, very full and warm at her heart.”

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell

Sometimes you encounter a book that makes your heart so full that you can’t help looking forward to encountering it throughout your day. This book leaves a sort of film over your eyes, so that even when you’re sitting at your desk at work, staring at an Excel spreadsheet, you’re still seeing the characters of the novel. Their voices still resonate in your ears, and you can still perfectly imagine what they are saying and doing, even when the book is not in front of you. The book is like that guy you have a crush on, the guy you realize at the end of the day that you’ve actually been thinking about constantly without even knowing it. And when you open it on the bus ride home after a long day or when you’re sitting in bed getting ready for a new day to start, it kind of feels like coming home, like peace and calm.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is the latest book to leave me with that feeling. I’ve already spoken about the book here on the blog, but I finally finished it and I was left so satisfied and very sad. I knew that I would struggle to find another novel that would make me so eager to read each day (although I think I finally settled on a good contender with the novel I’m reading now – see my Goodreads page and the preview on the right side of this page for details!), and I immediately missed the characters. I missed Mrs. Gibson’s antics and ridiculousness, Cynthia’s drama but also her kind heart, and most of all I missed Molly’s strength and her ability to get through any obstacle with such levelheaded insight and perspective.

Upon finishing the novel, I encountered a review on Goodreads that revealed that the authoress decorously called Mrs. Gaskell in the 19th century passed away before completing Wives and Daughters. That fact is quite obvious from the abrupt ending – but rather than feeling as though this ending ruined the novel, made it less complete and profound, I felt as though the unfinished, open-ended conclusion left me wanting so much more and made the characters resonate and stick with me more profoundly. As a reader, I was called to come up with my own ending, to put together the pieces Mrs. Gaskell had left me and conjecture the most reasonable conclusions. I think I have a good idea of where Molly would’ve ended up, mistress of the Hall she loved so well. And I think I would’ve seen Cynthia happy, and maybe watched Mr. and Mrs. Gibson settle into a more amiable rapport. I think that, had Mrs. Gaskell finished her final novel, I would have been extremely pleased with the result because, let’s be honest, a Victorian novel can never let you down when it comes to romance.

Days are not always easy, weeks even less so when they’re the sum of very stressful and bizarre days, but if you have that special book that you carry in your bag with you, that you know will instantly whisk you a million miles away, then everything seems just a little bit easier and the sun shines down just a little bit brighter.

Have a happy week full of reading!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Wives and Husbands – #JNGReads

Happy Sunday lovely readers!

Today’s #JNGReads blog post has been a looong time coming!

I started reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s *Victorian* novel Wives and Daughters before Christmas…and I am absolutely, unequivocally obsessed with it! What a perfect, delicious, gorgeously written novel! If you follow me over on Twitter, you’ll know how obsessed I am with this incredible work of fiction because I am constantly gushing about it and tweeting long, deep quotes. I actually encourage you to take a look at my Twitter page (you can see some of the feed over on your right) because I won’t be able to talk about every one of my favourite quotes in this post, but I do think it would be worth your while to go and check them out!

Wives and Daughters is another quintessential, word-perfect Victorian novel. Like the other Victorian novels I’ve raved about here on the blog, such as Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, Gaskell’s other famous work North and South and my beloved Jane Eyre (among many others), Wives and Daughters is full of so many of the classic tropes, themes and motifs that characterize the 19th century in literature. There is gossip, intrigue, misunderstanding and, most of all, romance. True love jumps out of almost every page, and it is the two main heroines, Molly Gibson and her stepsister Cynthia Kirkpatrick, who drive the plot and create all of the suspense and emotional interest. This novel is, quite remarkably for the time, heavily focused on women and their role in the lives of the men around them (hence the title). These women, particularly Molly and Cynthia but also Cynthia’s mother Mrs. Hyacinth Gibson, are strong and opinionated and their personalities are not diluted in the slightest by the male characters around them. Mrs. Gibson is absolutely ridiculous, Cynthia is a well-meaning coquette, and Molly is…well…Molly is perfect, the picture of goodness, kindness, pure love and loyalty. Molly Gibson is one of those genuine, truthful heroines that a female reader can easily look up to, and her adoration and acceptance of Cynthia makes her stepsister a better person and a more remarkable character as well. I am deeply attached to these young women, who I see as my peers, and I am eager to learn how their love stories will conclude. I am so very reluctant to finish the novel, but if I know anything about the Victorian novel, I know that true love and marital bliss will prevail above all else. Is it any wonder that I love this era so much? 😉

And this leads me to a brief talk about the relevance of this particular Victorian novel to modern day life. Most of my friends, or at least the ones who didn’t study English literature as avidly as I did, would probably think that a lengthy, almost 800 page novel (I wish it were longer!) like Wives and Daughters that was written so long ago doesn’t have any relevance or significance to their 21st century lives. This may be true if one reads the novel on a surface level, but if a devoted reader chooses to dig deeper, he or she will find that many of the points about love and relationships can be adapted to the contemporary dating world. Take my two #JNGReads quotes for today, as an example:

“To him, she was the one, alone, peerless.”

“…a person in whose sight all her words were pearls or diamonds…”

– Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell

Without giving away too many spoilers (because I really want you all to read this novel for yourselves), at a certain point in the story, one of the main male characters falls in love with one of the main female characters. Pretty standard stuff…EXCEPT for the fact that this male character treats this female character like the respectable woman that she is. Meaning, that he treats her with the utmost respect at all times, and he idolizes and adores her without restraint. She is “the one” for him; he has no desire to look at, speak to, or entertain love for another, and he never compares her to anyone else. He is amazed and grateful for the beautiful woman he has found and his search for a life partner, a soul mate ends there.

How often does that happen nowadays? I’ve spoken about my disdain for dating services like Tinder before, but now more than ever, I see that dating sites like this one create too many options for a person. All too often, men and women are highly critical of people that they are dating, simply because they know that they have so many other options simultaneously. Instead of looking at the one person they are dating as “peerless”, as a person whose opinions and traits are as rare and wonderful and unique as “pearls or diamonds”, people today are quick to overanalyze, nitpick and reject based on tiny, inconsequential details. Of course, it is definitely important to be attracted, both physically and mentally, to a person, but I find that people today have become increasingly picky, specifically because so many other options for partners are right before their eyes. Sure, it’s possible that there is a man out there who is better for me, who would make me happier than my boyfriend (I think this unlikely, but let’s entertain the possibility for a second), but I don’t know this man; I haven’t met him, I don’t have his picture and profile in front of me, so I would never, ever dream of risking my happiness and the contentment I feel with my boyfriend for some hypothetical potential that might be out there. But on Tinder or other dating services, that man might be right in front of me, and so, if I were going on dates with him and my boyfriend at the same time, I might be more critical of the things that I now absolutely adore about my boyfriend because they are the traits that make him uniquely who he is.

Anyway, sorry to go on another rant – but I just do feel that, in the Victorian era, love was simpler and it was kinder and it was truer, if only because men and women were willing to give up their hearts and not keep searching endlessly for the next best thing. So, my parting words of wisdom: if you find someone that your heart desires and feels connected to, leave it at that for awhile, enjoy the ride with that person, and let your heart fully get to know them before moving on to the options that inevitably exist out there.

Wives and Daughters

xox,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

How to Dress Like a Victorian Literary Hero…in honour of Queen Victoria

Happy Victoria Day lovely readers!

Now, if you don’t reside in Canada like I do, I realize that you may not have any idea what Victoria Day is. It’s a federal holiday here, where most people get the Monday off work (except apparently for my boyfriend, who has to work…which I think is RIDICULOUS)…all in honour of QUEEN VICTORIA’S BIRTHDAY!!! So basically I should be saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY QUEEN V!!! 😀

A lot of people from my suburban town spend this weekend going up to their cottages, having BBQs and parties and what not. That all seems super fun to me…but what upsets me about it is that people seem to forget why we have the holiday to begin with…and most people don’t seem to know who Queen Victoria is at all (HORROR!). As a passionate Victorianist, I feel that it is my job to right this wrong, and so I am writing my second blog post in as many days for that reason. Now, I don’t know that I can say that Victorian literature wouldn’t exist without Queen Victoria, because I’m sure Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens would’ve still written if Victoria wasn’t their queen. But I do quite like calling myself a Victorianist, and I like what I’ve heard of Queen V’s history, so I really do quite admire her as a lady! In any case, today’s post is going to be fashion-inspired and Victorian-esque and I hope you will all love it.

In case you missed it, I wrote a post entitled How to Dress Like a Governess a little while ago, in which I dressed like my favourite literary character Miss Jane Eyre. I had such fun writing this post that I immediately came up with an idea to do a similar (but I guess, opposite) post about how to dress like a 19th century literary hero. Strangely enough perhaps, it was easy for me to find items in my wardrobe that a gentleman of the likes of Mr. Rochester would wear, so I took a couple pictures and they’ve been sitting in a folder on my computer for months now. I just couldn’t determine the best time to write the actual entry and make it live and then I thought, “Well, Victoria Day of course! It’s the most logical choice!”. So here we are!

This whole idea basically stemmed from a pair of shoes…or boots rather. I actually went to Target with the sole purpose of finding a pair of boots exactly like this because my mom bought a pair and when I saw them I instantly recognized them as almost exactly like a pair Mr. Rochester wears in the 2011 movie adaptation of Jane Eyre. I mean, on last Thursday’s season finale of the TV show Reign I saw Bash wearing the EXACT same ones, and although that’s set quite a bit earlier than the Victorian era, I know I’ve seen Michael Fassbender as Rochester wear these beauties! You know what, I’m going to find a picture right now and post it on my Instagram to prove it…so click the link and check over there in a little while and see if I’m right! (Sidenote: My Instagram is somehow always full of pictures of swoon-worthy actors in period pieces so you may enjoy it!)

Anyway, these boots are distinctly Victorian to me. Maybe it’s the two different coloured pieces of leather, maybe it’s the height of them, maybe it’s the more masculine square heel. I have no idea…but when I put them on for the first time, I totally felt like hopping on a horse and going for a ride in the countryside!

How To Dress Like Mr.Rochester

So once I had the boots, I wondered if I could make a full outfit of Victorian male items. And I think I accomplished this…

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I wore this outfit to work and I’m surprised I didn’t talk with a British accent the whole day. I’ve chosen a different pair of boots here, a lighter tan, suede pair with a bit of a heel that come up to only the ankle. Again, they felt like something heavier and sturdier, that a gentleman who’s used to travelling through the moors might wear. Then I chose a black pair of dress pants…classic and sophisticated if you ask me. And I paired it all with a long black cardigan that actually has arm patches and a white dress shirt, which seems to me to be the go-to outfit for the 19th century man. Now, the tricky part was finding something that could serve as a cravat, that all too important signature of the Victorian man’s wardrobe. I mean, you do not see Rochester or John Thornton (of Gaskell’s North and South) walking around town without a cravat tightly wrapped around his neck…it just doesn’t happen. Obviously I don’t own an actual cravat, but I do have this dark grey scarf that is long enough to tuck into the dress shirt/black cardigan combination. That’s what I did in this photo and I was so pleased with the result. I know the photo is a little grainy, but I think when you look at all the pieces together, I really do look quite a bit like I fit into a period drama.

So there you have it – a little tutorial on how to dress like your favourite Victorian leading man! I hope you all enjoyed this post…and I hope it will remind a few people to pay homage to the namesake of this lovely era on this important day honouring her.

The Forever Victorianist,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart