A Great and Terrible Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Ah, when reality fails to live up to expectations…

This novel was annoying. Was it as annoying as some of the 2-star reads I toiled through last year? No, thankfully. But was it random, all over the place and full of totally pointless characters? Yes, ma’am.

I’ve been wanting to read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray for years now. I think I added it to my Goodreads To-Read List when I first signed up for the site, which was a long time ago. By all accounts, this novel should’ve been a favourite of mine – the setting is Victorian England, the tale is meant to have magical twists and turns, and the heroine is a redhead, which I always associate with feisty, strong and brave characters. This novel really does tick every box that I look for when picking up a young-adult novel.

And yet, it fell utterly flat for me.

I have to admit, my mind wasn’t totally into this novel from the start. This could be because I entered into it hot off the tails of the most recent novel in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Frost and Starlight, which I have been anticipating for almost a year. It could also be because I’ve been exhausted from work this entire week. It is more likely because I’m leaving on my belated honeymoon to Paris and London next week and my mind has been wandering and daydreaming constantly. These could all be reasons why A Great and Terrible Beauty didn’t wow me like I thought it would.

However, if a book is good enough, nothing should get in its way. If a book is captivating and intriguing enough, I can pick it up after a long and busy day and be immediately swept up in it, as if I never put it down. If a plot is compelling enough, I won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough, even if my arms are tired from a grueling workout or my eyes are burning from hours staring at a computer screen. And, if characters are engaging enough, they will become dear friends. None of the characters from A Great and Terrible Beauty intrigued me, and the plot was so jumbled and random that it wasn’t able to redeem the novel for me whatsoever.

Okay, hang on a minute here, I feel like this little review is getting as jumbled as the novel. How to organize my thoughts better? What about a list of the things that made no sense to me and that I am still flummoxed by? Good plan!

1) Carolina – Who is this girl and why is she relevant? I still have no idea. Is she Mother Elena’s daughter? Was I supposed to be shocked by that? I didn’t even care, TBH.

2) Miss Moore – I really thought she’d somehow be involved in all the stuff with The Order and the realms and then she wasn’t and was just some basic character who served no purpose and wasn’t even in the novel enough to be this feminist, independent female character. Major potential that was unexplored if you ask me.

3) Mary Dowd’s Diary – 100% of the diary entries included in the novel seemed pointless to me and served only to muddle the plot and didn’t actually add any suspense or thrill, in my opinion. Could’ve done without the diary honestly.

4) Circe – I have no words for how confusing this character is as a “villain”, mainly because she isn’t even present in the novel and I don’t have any grasp of what exactly she is or is after.

5) Gemma’s Brother – What is this guy’s name again? I can’t even remember…which just proves how pointless his inclusion in the novel was, even though it was brief. Wasted time and space on the page, if you ask me.

6) Mrs. Nightwing – Could’ve been cool. Could’ve been an unexpected villain OR an unexpected aid to the main characters. Was none of these things. Not cool.

7) Brigid – See comments above.

8) The Order/The Realms – WTF was even happening in the realms and what even is The Order? Like was it just comprised of Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Whatever? Or has The Order been around for a long time? Did I miss a huge explanation here? Possible.

9) Mr. Bumble – Again, major potential left unexplored BECAUSE this novel could’ve had way more commentary about what it means to be a woman in the Victorian era EXCEPT that it only alludes to these things and then flits off into fairyland and then nothing much happens.

10) Ann – The epitome of unexplored potential. She could’ve been the raddest female character if she only had a bit more backbone and fight to her. And okay, maybe the author wanted to go the route of having her be self-conscious about her lack of beauty, etc. BUT what about exploring this a bit further rather than just referencing the fact that she tries to physically hurt herself and then shying away from this subject matter?

11) Gemma – Not quite as annoying as my two least favourite characters of all time, Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper and Anna from Anna and the French Kiss (I know, you all have your pitchforks at the ready, I can sense it), but Gemma has to be one of the most insipid and idiotic characters I have ever encountered. If someone says, Do NOT take this power with you into the real world…DON’T DO IT. DO NOT. Those instructions were very clear. Gemma just seems like a selfish, spoiled brat right from page 1, and this only gets worse when she teams up with equally annoying and vapid characters like Felicity and Pippa. Mean Girls-esque cliques in a Victorian-inspired novel? NOT. A. FAN.

12) Kartik – Is this person a viable love interest for anyone in this story? Does this person have a point in this novel? No to both.

I was going to give this book a 3-star rating, to be generous, but boy, did that list ever work wonders and clarify things for me. This novel was a bore, but also super confusing and left me with more questions than answers. Not impressed, to say the least.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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✦ Answered Dreams ✦ ~ A Court of Frost and Starlight

☆ Nothing much happened in this novel…and yet, it meant everything to me. ☆

I’m the type of reader who fantasizes about characters, long after I’ve turned the final page of a novel. I’ll find myself on the subway thinking about what a fictitious couple might be up to at that exact moment. I’ll be standing in my kitchen, making lunch or dinner, and I’ll find myself considering what a fictional character would be making for his or her own dinner. And now that I’m married, I’ve found myself speculating about the married/domestic lives of characters like Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire…and Feyre and Rhysand…beyond the scenes of the books they are a part of.

☆ I love imagining and envisioning the spaces in between a novel, the quiet moments that are omitted from or would follow it. ☆

And for that reason, A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas was my ideal sort of book. As I said, nothing very substantial happens in it…no plot twists or moments of heart-wrenching anxiety. Following the drama of A Court of Wings and Ruin, though, I don’t think we really needed anything too heart-pounding. Instead what we get is what I felt I needed most: the everyday, the routine. We see Feyre and Rhys, as well as the cast of the Night Court, going about their lives and picking up the pieces after the war. The novel, or novella, whatever you want to call it, is comprised of a bunch of little scenes of this everyday life, and I found it adorable and touching in equal measure. It gave me a glimpse into scenes I had tried to imagine myself: Feyre and Rhys busy at work (something my husband and I can really relate to, having started new, dream jobs ourselves recently), Mor and Cassian retreating to places of solitude to ease their anxieties, and Amren engaging in an unexpected romance. There was nothing earth-shattering about this story, sure, and yet somehow it felt significant, felt like catching up with a friend after a long time apart. And there are, of course, a few surprises, but even these were treated with subtlety. This book felt intimate and human, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I could go on with more examples of lovely moments in the story or provide some of my favourite quotes, but since the story is so short, I hesitate to do that. That would take the fun and wonder out of experiencing it as a reader…so let me just say that if you are a fan of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, this is a must read.

☆☆☆☆☆ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Neverwhere ~ #JNGReads

Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming my new favourite author.

To be honest, I’ve only read two novels by Gaiman: Stardust and now Neverwhere. My husband, however, is an avid graphic novel reader and he recently finished the entire Sandman collection, as well as several collections that take place within the Sandman Universe (such as Death and Lucifer). Although I haven’t read these stories myself, discussing them with my husband and having him show me bits and pieces of them has convinced me that Gaiman is a genius storyteller. My brother also spoke very fondly of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I think will be my next Gaiman endeavour) and American Gods. Neil Gaiman seems to be all around me lately, and I can’t say I mind!

Neverwhere is one of those books that I will never be able to describe or summarize. There is a lot going on in this relatively small (only just over 400 pages!) text, and much of what occurs is fantastical but still somehow totally realistic and mundane. It’s hard to put into words the vibe and tone of Neverwhere, but trust me when I say that if you love unique characters, thorough world-building, and the city of London in general, you will enjoy this wild ride. I can’t say too much about the plot because I feel like everything would be a spoiler since so much of the novel’s magic is down to the creation of this insane and yet wonderfully recognizable world, and I would urge anyone who has read any Gaiman and enjoyed it, or anyone who is interested in getting a feel for what Gaiman’s work is all about, to pick Neverwhere up. I feel, personally, that it gave me a truer sense of who Gaiman is as a writer than Stardust did because, rather than adhering to genre specific criteria as he did in creating Stardust, a fairytale, Neverwhere seems to be entirely of Gaiman’s own invention.

What I can comment thoroughly on, though, is Neil Gaiman’s mastery of the English language. The man can write, there’s scarcely any doubt about that, and what’s more, he seems to have mastered many different styles and genres of writing. Neverwhere felt exactly, to me, like it could’ve been written by Dickens and that is what I adored about it! Several of the scenes reminded me of something from the pages of my favourite Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend, and the way Gaiman constructs and describes his characters is very reminiscent of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. I am particularly thinking of characters like Mr. Croup, Mr. Vandemar and the Marquis de Carabas, who are gritty and dirty and devious enough to have been created by Mr. Dickens himself. I believe that Gaiman was very much aware of how he was emulating Dickens’ style, but I also was amazed to find that the text felt so totally his own; it wasn’t a parody or an imitation at all, but it was certainly an homage to the great works of Victorian past.

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing alike.”

“They walked down some impressive lobby. Then they waited while the footman lit each of the candles on a candelabra, of the sort normally only seen on paperback book covers, where it is traditionally clutched by a young lady in a flowing nightdress who is fleeing from the kind of manor house that only has one light on anywhere, burning in an attic window.”

Neverwhere is worth picking up for the beauty of its language. But what’s even more impressive is that the plot is exciting and the characters are both hilarious and feisty. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, is a bumbling average guy who happens upon this totally outrageous adventure, and as a reader, it is so enjoyable to watch him navigate his way through circumstances that are outlandish and dangerous.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Neverwhere and I will not hesitate to continue plowing through Neil Gaiman’s catalogue. Highly recommend this one!

❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Cruel Prince ~ #JNReads

Let me start by saying that Holly Black’s novel The Cruel Prince is not my favourite fantasy novel, and although I will be comparing it to some of my favourites and indicating similarities between them, this particular novel did not achieve “Favourite” (yes, with a capital F) status for me. That being said, I do feel compelled, after finishing it, to pick up some more of Holly Black’s books, so that is certainly a testament to the fact that her work intrigued me quite a bit.

The Cruel Prince felt, to me, very similar to Sarah J. Maas’ novel A Court of Thorns and Roses. Now, this is where my caveat above comes in: the ACOTAR series is one of my all-time favourites, and so while The Cruel Prince had a comparable vibe to the first novel in that series, it certainly didn’t affect me as viscerally or vehemently. A Court of Thorns and Roses seriously blew me away, especially by the end, and The Cruel Prince sadly did not. However, as I said, the vibe of the two novels felt nearly the same in that both start slow, building up the world and the characters with an intense amount of detail, and then pick up around the 3/4 point when the main action commences. It’s important for those who are considering reading The Cruel Prince to know this about the novel…when you start it, you may feel bogged down by all the descriptions and “set up” and by the fact that the narrator and main character, Jude, seems to describe a lot of things at length but not actually do very much. Rest assured, once you hit the halfway point of the novel, the plot picks up significantly, and once you get to about 300 pages in, you’ll start to feel a lot more anxious for the characters and a lot more immersed in the suspense and intrigue. This was my experience anyway, and I would say that The Cruel Prince is a novel you have to be in for the long haul. Despite the fact that it’s only just over 350 pages, it might take you some time to read it because of all the description, but just sit with it and keep going because by the end, you’ll be glad you did!

With all that said, I was never truly hooked by The Cruel Prince, even when I got to the twists and turns of the ending. For some reason, I could never fully warm up to Jude, which is not to say that I hated her or anything as extreme as that, but I also just couldn’t bring myself to love her or to care that much about her. Her backstory is very interesting and there is some treatment of PTSD and anxiety that I found subtle, interesting and realistic, but again, I just didn’t feel like Jude had enough going for her for me to view her as a fictional friend. Moreover, Cardan was definitely a fascinating character and he grew into a pretty swoon-worthy hero toward the conclusion, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough of him in the novel. I mean, it is named for him after all, and yet there wasn’t all that much interaction between him and Jude. Yes, she spends a lot of time thinking about him and fearing him, but they don’t talk very often and until the final hundred pages of the novel, there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever. I get that romance is not all a novel needs to be about, especially one in the fantasy genre, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a relationship between Jude and Cardan merely because there is so much hype about them both. I don’t know, I guess the “romance” of the novel wasn’t what I was expecting…I wanted something more passionate and grittier, and although Black approaches that sort of relationship toward the end, I don’t think there was enough heat and heart-pounding intensity throughout the story to make me all that interested in Jude and Cardan together.

I also struggled a little bit with Black’s writing style in that I felt it to be disjointed at times. I found myself becoming confused on several occasions, trying to keep the characters straight and trying to work out how each of their stories interconnect. For example, Jude spends a lot of time ruminating on the wrongful death of a character named Liriope, but it took me a really long time to figure out why she was important and how her presence in the novel contributed to the plot whatsoever. Eventually it all sort of becomes clear, but when the concept of Liriope is first introduced, it seems somewhat pointless and like a detail that the reader can ignore, so I don’t know that Black did a good enough job planting clues for her audience or linking the beginning of the novel up with the conclusion. The court structure of Black’s world is also kind of complicated in terms of succession and how many different courts there are and how each of them function in tandem. I found myself becoming really interested in places like the Unseelie Court, as an example, but then Black never provided any description about them. She alluded many times to practices and structures outside of the novel, within the land of Faerie, but she then never went back and touched on them, and so I found myself trying to put threads together that weren’t substantial enough. I hear that this book is going to become a series, so I’m assuming Black will delve further into these details in the future, but I found that the constant mention of them within The Cruel Prince took my attention away from the main plot and action in a manner that was at times very distracting.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this book. Like I said, it isn’t a Favourite of mine, and I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more, but I did have a pleasant time reading it and I would definitely continue with the series. I’m intrigued enough to follow through with these characters, even if I won’t necessarily rush out to buy the second book as soon as it’s released.

My Favourite Quotes from The Cruel Prince

Like I said, there are some particularly hard-hitting moments that should have their time to shine amidst my critiques…

✦ JUDE ✦

“I cannot seem to contort myself back into the shape of a dutiful child.

I am coming unraveled. I am coming undone.

“I seem to have passed some kind of threshold. Before, I never knew how far I would go. Now I believe I have the answer. I will go as far as there is to go.

I will go way too far.

✦ CARDAN ✦

“‘Jude Duarte, daughter of clay, I swear myself into your service. I will act as your hand. I will act as your shield. I will act in accordance with your will. Let it be so for one year and one day…and not for one minute more.’”

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

An Enchantment of Ravens ~ #JNGReads

Okay, I think I can condense my review of Margaret Rogerson’s book An Enchantment of Ravens into one sentence…

This novel is the literary equivalent of an hour and a half long feature film that you wish was made into a 4-hour miniseries instead.

An Enchantment of Ravens was a great novel, it truly was. I would’ve gone so far as to say it was an excellent novel, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was just so darn short. At 295 pages, this novel is exactly what I said: a movie that would’ve been better as a TV show…a burger that didn’t come with fries on the side…ice cream in a cup, not a cone. What I mean by all that is that this novel got good, it fully got going, and then it ended. Just when you’re starting to become interested in the plot and invested in the characters, just when you’re taking the last bite of that burger and realizing you’re still hungry, just when you’ve taken the last lick of that delicious mint chocolate chip ice cream and are excited to crunch on the cone…it’s over. The end – nice knowing you, see you later!

Seriously, there isn’t much to An Enchantment of Ravens because it is such a tiny story. However, Rogerson also packs this impressive and intricate world, these unique and fierce main characters, these hilarious and endearing side characters, and this explosive adventure plot into a book that really is nothing more than a novella. My main problem with An Enchantment of Ravens is that I just needed more time: more time to get to know Isobel and Rook, more time to familiarize myself with the world they lived in, more time to visualize their life-threatening circumstances…more time with them in general. I found myself starting to really love and feel connected to Isobel and Rook around page 220, only to realize that there were only 75 pages left of my journey with them. It’s not even that An Enchantment of Ravens is too poorly paced, because I never felt like I wasn’t seeing things I should have or that any plot points were missing per say – instead, I simply felt like every single scene, from Isobel meeting Rook and painting his portrait, to their battle with the ultimate villain (trying to avoid spoilers here!) at the end, could have been expanded, fleshed out further and more painstakingly described. While Rogerson’s descriptions of nature and the fairy world are detailed and lush, and in many places made my skin crawl as I imagined the rot and decay she described in the summer court that was turning rancid, her treatment of particular scenes and conversations and events was too rushed. This is most obvious any time there is a fight scene of any kind – Rogerson seems to describe each moment in rapid succession, literally as if her audience is watching the scene and the camera is moving from one image to the next. But the thing is, we aren’t watching it, we are reading and so we need time to visualize everything, to make a picture of it in our minds, settle into that picture and then let the action unfold. It felt to me on several occasions like I was struggling to keep up with Rogerson, like my mind was flitting from one image to the next too quickly for me to get a grasp on any single one or see the bigger picture. Again, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the images she was creating – on the contrary, I would’ve liked to spend more time within them.

Further examples of this rushed feeling came any time there was dialogue, particularly between Isobel and Rook. I sincerely liked both of them and I enjoyed their relationship, but I felt like, once again, their conversations were written with a cinematographic quality in the sense that they were so fast-paced and short that I never really got a sense of their tone of voice. I sensed chemistry between them, but the focus of narration moved too quickly away from their dialogue and banter to allow me to really revel in that feeling. This ultimately left me feeling like I wasn’t fully connected to or friendly with the characters, and I was especially disappointed by this when it came to intriguing side characters like Isobel’s aunt Emma and her sisters March and May who were so quirky and adorable, but whose emotional connections toward Isobel were somewhat glossed over and then flitted away from. So much happened in An Enchantment of Ravens that it all just happened in such a mad, dizzying blur for me.

Maybe the best comparison I can give is to relate my experience of reading An Enchantment of Ravens to my experience watching a movie and a TV show that are equally full of action. An Enchantment of Ravens is like the book equivalent of Zack Snyder’s movie Batman v. Superman – there is A LOT going on in that movie, so much that it all becomes an incoherent mess by the end. Sure, if you take a single scene and watch it in isolation, it’s well crafted, enjoyable and easy to follow. But when you cram a bunch of really overwhelming and busy scenes into one film, it all becomes a bit muddled until your left in the conclusion not knowing what the heck even happened. Then, take for example the Netflix/Marvel TV show Daredevil – there’s just as much action as in Batman v. Superman, the story is just as wide in scope, and yet because it unfolds slowly over an entire TV series, it feels for the viewer like they have truly gone on a journey, like they have lived in that world and resided with the characters. It feels more organic and natural, and I would argue that viewers of Daredevil will have a lot more to say about it and reflect upon afterwards than they would after watching Batman v. Superman, most of which will just go right over their heads and be forgotten. An Enchantment of Ravens is a more action-packed version of the Victorian novel that has been adapted into a Hollywood film production rather than a slow-burning BBC miniseries…it is a waste of a good story.

Margaret Rogerson has talent, there’s no doubt about that, and overall I enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens. Unfortunately, though, I think that fantasy novels need to be massive tomes to be successful because there is too much to establish in terms of the world and the heroes and heroines, along with the adventure-driven plot, to condense it all into a small package. So, while I would recommend An Enchantment of Ravens as a super quick fantasy reader, I felt it had much more potential.

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Stardust ~ #JNGReads

“The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, although she was very much in love.”

~ Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

Bless you, Neil Gaiman, for that paragraph alone!

Stardust is a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable fairytale by acclaimed and beloved author, Neil Gaiman. As a fan of fairytales of all kinds, from Disney’s versions of tales such as Beauty and the Beast to ancient poems detailing the adventures of Sir Gawain, I found Stardust to be thoroughly entertaining and I would highly recommend it as a quick but fun and adorable read to young adult readers, as well as older readers with a youthful and fantastical spirit.

I should mention that I have never read any other works by Gaiman. I was encouraged to read Stardust by my brother, who recently became a big fan of Gaiman’s work after reading American Gods. My brother thought that American Gods wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, however, so he passed Stardust over to me as soon as he finished it. My husband recently devoured and loved Gaiman’s graphic novel “Sandman”, and so he too was excited for me to delve into Gaiman’s catalogue. There is no doubt that Neil Gaiman is a literary genius, with a versatile writing style that is equally impressive and awe-inspiring, and Stardust was certainly a well-written, well-constructed and imaginative work that I believe deserves a high rating for its uniqueness and creativity, as well as its flow and easily digestible structure.

Having said that, while I was not familiar with Gaiman’s writing before picking up Stardust, I had seen (albeit years ago) the film adaptation of this fairytale. Normally I would hesitate to pick up a book after seeing the movie version because I often find the movie clouds my judgment and perception of the original written text if I do this, but in the case of Stardust, I felt that I had seen the movie so long ago (when I was in high school) that it made sense to read the text and then revisit the movie. I was sure that I had forgotten enough of the movie to make the book interesting to me in its own right. And that is, in many ways, true – there were several aspects of the tale that I had forgotten entirely, a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming at all, and the things I did remember from the film (such as the ending, for example) were altered and different enough in the book that I found I could enjoy the written story in and of itself. Nevertheless, there were elements of the movie that I did have some memory of, which I found lacking in the story – for the first time ever, it seemed to me that the film adaptation delved more deeply into the histories and backgrounds of certain fascinating characters, such as the witch and the sky-ship captain (played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro in the movie, respectively), and I felt while reading that I only had a half-formed, very weak understanding of these characters. I also felt that in the movie version, the relationship between Tristran Thorn and the star Yvaine is fleshed out better and more organically and naturally. I almost felt as though, although the book was definitely entertaining and enjoyable, there was some sort of spark missing from it.

I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads that implied that for these reasons the film adaptation of Stardust is better than the book…I wouldn’t go that far! I think that in this particular case, one really must look at the movie and the book as two totally separate entities. The book is, according to Gaiman’s own admission in the Introduction, a tale he sat down to write spontaneously and probably completed in a few hours. It’s almost the outline of a tale more than a story itself – it serves as more of a summary, a rubric for a fairytale that has immense room for expansion. I think that’s what the film adaptation did: it took this very short, tiny novel and fleshed it out, imagined scenarios and events in the peripheral that Gaiman certainly hints at but doesn’t delve into himself, and it made those real, depicted them in a way that honours and pays homage to Gaiman’s actual text but also gives it more depth and life. The movie is, then, more of a love letter to the book than an adaptation of it.

With all that said, I really did enjoy Stardust very much, and I am glad that I read it. I do absolutely think I’ll read more of Gaiman’s work, particularly in other genres to get a sense of his versatility. Overall, I would call my reading of Stardust an unequivocal success!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Crooked Kingdom ~ #JNGReads

“a black glass boy of deadly edges.”

So this is what all the hype was about.

I have to be honest right from the start: when I read the Grisha Trilogy, I was sort of wondering what all the fuss was about.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three novels in the series well enough, but at the end of my reading experience and recently, several months after finishing the series, I found myself thinking that it wasn’t at all what it was hyped up to be.  I liked Leigh Bardugo’s creative world building and interesting characters (shout out to The Darkling and Nikolai/Sturmhond in particular) a lot, but I just couldn’t fully understand why everyone on Goodreads was obsessed with Bardugo’s writing.  I found myself not really getting it.

That is until I read Six of Crows which absolutely blew me away.  Having now finished reading the second novel in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom, I can finally say that I truly understand Bardugo’s genius and I am absolutely eager to pick up anything and everything she has written and will write in the future.  The Six of Crows duology is masterfully written and articulated: the pacing is absolute perfection, blending a suspenseful plot with intense moments of quiet, emotional reflection within each character; the world is vast and immense, and draws on elements of the Grisha trilogy to create a realistic setting and environment that is all encompassing and broad; and the characters…well, they’re impossible to describe and equally impossible to forget.  I wrote last weekend about my appreciation for the female protagonists Nina and Inej who I believe are groundbreaking in their representation, and I was inspired even further by their friendship and teamwork in Crooked Kingdom – they truly reminded me of myself and my dear best friend, CV, boosting each other up and growing each other’s confidence at every turn.  All of the characters are fascinating, though, from Wylan, the quiet and innocent scientist, to Jesper, the rambunctious and daring gambler (and, Wylan and Jesper’s relationship was remarkable and touching as well).  There really is nothing that could’ve been made better or improved in the Six of Crows duology, and it is, to me, an utter masterpiece of literature.  Despite the fact that it is a fantasy series branded as young adult lit., it is edgy, dark, heart wrenching and profoundly mature.  This is the sort of young adult literature that needs to be written more often – we don’t need to pander to or belittle young adults, we need to provide them with stories that are as diverse and thought provoking and complex as they are.  Leigh Bardugo does this artfully.

And, in truth, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feel like very adult novels, particularly in some of the darker themes they investigate.  One of these is the treatment of PTSD and anxiety, which is what touched me most profoundly when reading Crooked Kingdom.  It all comes down to the astonishing characterization of Kaz Brekker, arguably the main character of the duology.  Kaz is a character that I identified with very strongly (never mind the fact that every “Which Six of Crows character are you?” quiz I took yielded the result KAZ).  Kaz suffers from anxiety in a way that is very complicated and easy to leave unrecognized.  He is a strong and confident character, a born leader whose mind is so sharp that he always has a number of plans, and multiple backup plans, in the works.  He is one of the most capable characters I have ever encountered.  But, at the same time, Kaz is deeply flawed and troubled, having survived the traumatic experience of watching his brother die from illness when he was very young.  There are so many layers to his particular story that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that Kaz has difficulty connecting emotionally to anyone else, as well as physically touching other people, because of what he has experienced.  The fact that he wears black leather gloves almost constantly is a physical representation of his anxiety about getting too close to the people around him.

And how remarkable is it to have a character that gets things done, and does them well, but is also constantly at war within himself?  This is absolutely, 100% groundbreaking in my opinion, and Bardugo treats Kaz’s anxiety and PTSD with the utmost care and sensitivity.  But, she also displays his flaws, delves deep into them, and presents him to the reader warts and all.  I felt in so many ways that Kaz was a mirror that reflected myself back to me – no, I don’t have trouble connecting to other people, but I do have my fair share of serious anxieties, and although I am often on top of them and use them to complete my tasks and responsibilities with even more perfection, they are frustrating and exhausting all the same.  Suffering from anxiety is an everyday battle, and even if things are going well and everything is successful, that doesn’t mean that a person isn’t feeling weakened and vulnerable.  Kaz is such a clear representation of that, this person who is seemingly always in control, but who is battling these harsh demons within himself.  I easily sympathized and empathized with Kaz, and I would encourage every single person to read Crooked Kingdom (and of course, Six of Crows first) to get a sense of what a life with anxiety can be like.

What also struck me about Crooked Kingdom was the emphasis on fighting one’s demons, on doing everything possible to be healthy, to conquer one’s anxieties and weaknesses.  This was a powerful message that I felt truly touched by – I loved the emphasis on doing the work to better yourself, on not just sitting around and saying that you are “damaged” and then doing nothing about it.  Yes, there are so many people who go through grave and traumatic things, but I think what is most inspiring is when these people take those experiences and the pain they feel every single day and channel it into being a good person, or into bettering themselves and learning from their experiences.  There is so much growth to be taken from trauma and pain, and although it is so much easier said than done, I appreciate that Bardugo forces her characters to be self-aware, to understand their flaws and complexities and work on achieving their own version of happiness, whatever that may be.  The treatment of both anxiety and the healing process is flawlessly and movingly done.

“‘I would come for you…I would come for you.  And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together knives drawn, pistols blazing.  Because that’s what we do.  We never stop fighting.’” ~ Kaz to Inej

“‘Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined.  If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.’” ~ Inej to Jesper

Bardugo does so much with her characters in both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and she explores so many wonderful facets of their personalities, that it is quite impossible not to love and root for them.  I was touched by the stories of every single one of the characters, and it was just an added bonus that the plots of the novels were so complex and exciting.

I would HIGHLY recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone.  Leigh Bardugo’s talent as a writer is so evident in these two novels, and it is a genius you won’t want to miss out on!

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

Crooked Kingdom ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Six of Crows – A Mini Review ~ #JNGReads

Well, I’m certainly late to the party with this one, but boy am I glad I finally arrived!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a remarkable, suspenseful, heart wrenching and complex tale. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year, and will go down as one of my all-time favourite novels.

I don’t want this review to be too long or comprehensive because I’m planning to move rapidly into reading the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom. I would much rather wait until I have finished that book to write a full review of the entire series, with more thorough thoughts on the main characters. Having said that, there was something that struck me about Six of Crows and I just felt that I had to get my thoughts on it down in writing.

Six of Crows, as I said before, is remarkable – it is unlike any other novel in so many ways, such as its tone, narration and sophisticated, gothic feel. It is most remarkable, however, in its portrayal of the six characters that serve as the protagonists of the story. Wylan, Jesper, Matthias, Nina, Inej and Kaz are among the most unique, creative and well-articulated characters I have ever encountered in literature. Each one of them has such a vast and complicated personality, with a detailed history, and Bardugo’s genius truly emerges in her narrative style and the fact that she allows each of the six characters to have their own focus while maintaining consistent third person narration. It is a style that is really hard to describe, but it is almost as though the narrator, this omniscient being, decides to hone in on each of the six characters in their own turn, portraying their own internal emotions and anxieties while simultaneously pinpointing how these internal sentiments manifest themselves in outer reality and are perceived by the other characters. I can’t do the style justice by trying to describe it, so believe me when I say that Six of Crows would be worth reading just for the unparalleled narrative style.

But Six of Crows is also worth reading for sooo many other reasons, such as the suspenseful plot and the complex relationships between these six intriguing, flawed but strong characters. Kaz is by far a standout character, but what touched me most profoundly, and what I want to talk about more closely right now, is Bardugo’s portrayal of her two female characters, Nina and Inej. I have not come across such inspiring female characters in a very long time, and I have to admit that Nina and Inej have already inspired me in my own life. They have given me that little extra push I needed to be the strongest, most powerful young woman I can be, and I think we should all be grateful as readers that two female characters like this exist in a young adult novel. I, for one, will be having my future daughter (if I have one) read Six of Crows at an early age because of Nina and Inej.

Nina ~ The Confident and Curvy Grisha

Nina was the character that truly surprised me the most in Six of Crows. When she first appears in the novel, she is working in what I guess is a sort of brothel or something of that sort and she comes across as somewhat flaky and far too focused on physical appearances and superficial things. Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that although Nina is beautiful, she has many gifts as a Grisha Heartrender and is also extremely intelligent, fierce and takes no nonsense from anyone. Above all, she is unfailingly loyal, both to her lover Matthias and eventually to the Six of Crows crew, and she makes sacrifices and wise snap decisions that I really didn’t expect from her. She was just a fascinating example of the appearance vs. reality motif.

What stuck with me most about Nina was her inspiring amount of confidence. It’s mentioned several times in the novel that Nina absolutely loves sweets and food in general, and her voluptuous form is also described. This led me to believe that Nina is more of a curvy figure, and that was something that I seriously LOVED! This is a different topic for another time, but I have always struggled with my weight, body confidence and self-esteem, and no matter how many times my fiancé and my friends tell me that I have nothing at all to worry about, I can’t seem to acquire the confidence I would like to have about this particular aspect of myself. To read about Nina acting with such confidence, particularly in her interactions and when making those snap decisions, was truly eye opening for me. Nina’s body isn’t even a thing that she mentions herself or seems to think about, except in its capacity to assist her in her tasks and when she is using it to her advantage. She seems to truly love herself and take pride in exactly who she is, and all I could think while reading is, I want to be Nina when I grow up. I’m not even close to as confident and self-assured as she is yet, but I would really like to be one day.

The passage that touched me the most with regards to this idea was the following one…

“Do you never doubt yourself?” [Matthias asked Nina.]

“All the time,” she’d said as she slid into sleep. “I just don’t show it.”

Nina is the embodiment of the “fake it till you make it” mentality – and boy, does she ever make it in the end! She became one of my favourite fictional characters ever!

Inej ~ The Defiant and Daring Ghost

While Nina was most probably my favourite character in Six of Crows, Inej was the one that intrigued me the most (and that is saying a lot since Kaz Brekker is very intriguing!). In contrast to Nina, Inej is this slender, silent character that is actually given the nickname The Wraith to describe how adept she is at remaining hidden and taking people by surprise. She was raised as an acrobat, and her athleticism and the way she pushes her body to the ultimate extremes (such as climbing up an incinerator shaft, practically barefoot) is freaking insane! It is totally groundbreaking, in my opinion, to see characters like Nina and Inej working together and becoming such close friends without any competitiveness whatsoever, and it warmed my heart to see this wraith-like figure soften and begin to trust another female. I also couldn’t help but root for Inej, not only in her crazy physical feats, but also in terms of wanting her to find love and respect, and to value herself as more than simply a pawn or tool in Kaz’s missions. I think whereas Nina possesses confidence inherently, Inej truly develops and gains confidence as the novel progresses, especially in her interactions with Kaz, and that is an epic transformation to watch unfold. Although Inej never doubts herself when getting a task done or doing something physical, it is heartwarming to watch her start to believe in her own value more and become self-assured.

Inej’s newfound self-worth is most obvious in a line toward the end of the novel that I just couldn’t get out of my head…

“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

Inej finally has the confidence to go after exactly what she wants, and she refuses to settle for anything less. I was more proud of her than I can adequately express here.

And on that note, let me finish by giving a song recommendation. I am sometimes struck by songs that I like that somehow seem to fit exactly with an aspect of a novel I’ve just read, and today when I was running on the treadmill for an hour (What can I said, Inej inspired me?!), the song “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent came on my iPod. I’ve liked this song since high school, but as I listened to the lyrics today, I couldn’t help but think of Kaz and Inej and their complicated relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I am going to include some lyrics that I think express this comparison, as well as a link to the song below. If you’ve read the novel (and if not, I urge you to ASAP!) you’ll know exactly what I mean.

From “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent

Never understood how she could,

Mean so little to so many

Why does she mean everything to me?

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

******

I never walked so far on a lonely street

With no one there for me

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

Accept this confession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

You’re not my high possession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

My conscience is vicious!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

And I’m begging forgiveness!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-GSagBJgY

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Ambitious, But Not Impossible Reading Plan…

Hello again dear Readers!

I’m actually here, doing an update on a Sunday…go figure!

Today marks the first day of October and the start of the best time of year! In my opinion, the stretch from the beginning of October to the end of December is the loveliest time because of the perfect, crisp Fall weather and the anticipation of Christmas and the New Year. As you all know already, this Christmas is going to be particularly exciting for me, and so I am already counting down the days until 2017 wraps up.

With that being said, I was recently thinking about how I want to end my reading year. How many more books do I hope to finish before 2017 is up? Which book do I want to be reading the week before my wedding? Do I have time to finish another series before then? This all led me to make a list of the books I currently own and hope to have read by the time January rolls around. This is somewhat ambitious because last minute wedding planning is ramping up, but I am confident that I can at least get most of this list done.

What do you think – can I do it? Are there any books you would recommend I swap into this list?

The Books I Want To Finish Before January:

(in the order that I would like to read them)

  1. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  2. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  4. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
  5. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  6. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
  7. Jane Eyre by (the queen) Charlotte Brontë

Notes:

If I can manage to finish all 7 of these books before the end of 2017, that will bring me to a grand total of 52 finished books for the year… MUCH higher than my Goodreads goal of 18 books which in hindsight was very low. (I’m thinking of setting a goal of 52 books for next year, but we’ll see how that goes!)

As you can probably tell, I’m going for a Jane Eyre theme leading up to my wedding. I definitely want to be rereading Jane Eyre right before I get married (I’ll explain why closer to the date), and I thought it would be cool to lead up to this reread with some newer adaptations of my most beloved story.

So, here we go – let’s finish off 2017 with a bang!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Cruel Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Reading Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. I knew I would really struggle to write a review of the book as I was reading it because I knew I’d never be able to fully remember or encapsulate just how weird and confused it made me throughout my reading experience. For that reason, about a third into the story, I decided to start making notes about what I was thinking and feeling as I read, and these are the notes I will present to you as my “review” of sorts. I have to say, I am still 100% confused by this novel because I don’t at all know how to make sense of the plot or the characters or any of it. I am not at all confident in my rating (which you’ll find at the end of this review) because in all likelihood it was heavily influenced by how emotional the ending of the story was and doesn’t take into account how bland and utterly confounding parts of the plot were. But, that being said, I think the purpose of reading is to challenge oneself, and this novel was undoubtedly a challenging one because it forced me to consider what elements I believe make for a great story. Is it a complex plot, or can those sometimes become too ambitious and convoluted? Is it complicated characters, or can they sometimes tend toward hypocrisy and create frustration? Is it a romance that is all encompassing, or can those sometimes become over-the-top and melodramatic? Is it an ending that leaves you raw and uncertain? I can’t say I know any of the answers to those questions, but Cruel Beauty most certainly has all of those things – it was at once vast and overly ambitious, beautiful and annoying. It is a contradiction in so many ways…and yet…I didn’t hate it…or at least, I don’t think I did.

My Thoughts As I Read

As of pg. 125

– Nyx’s internal monologue is grating because her character is not complex enough. She ruminates on the same issues over and over (very redundant!), for example hating her sister and father and aunt and lusting after Shade. However, her monologue never actually leads her anywhere!

– The writing style seems all over the place and is disorienting. Some aspects of the plot are poorly explained, for example the concept of Hermetics and the demons and why the sky is paper… Huh?!

– I really like Ignifex BUT there isn’t enough of him so far! I find Shade boring so I want more Ignifex!

So far, this is at 3 stars for me = no emotional connection or investment on my part yet, but I am still hopeful and intrigued.

– Things I want to learn more about at this point in the novel: 1) Ignifex’s bargains; 2) Ignifex’s past lives; 3) demon lore/explanation of when Ignifex came into power to be more fleshed out

As of pg. 144

– Although the “final prince” storyline is not very fleshed out and not at all well explained, I am so curious in spite of myself!

pg. 164: Literally within the span of one page, Nyx talks about hating and loving Astraia. Just when you think she is growing, either for good or evil, she backtracks. ANNOYING!

– Then an allusion to Ignifex’s masters that gets dropped…when do things come together?

* I will say, Hodge paints the rooms well, like the dripping wet library…BUT her references to mythology are too frequent, jarring and heavy handed.

* I feel like Hodge has a lot of good and intriguing ideas BUT she tries to cram too many of them into one book and it makes the plot feel heavy and cumbersome.

– I will say, I do love how Ignifex talks. I do feel that he has a distinct voice. He is unique from any main male characters I’ve encountered in a while; weirdly, he reminds me both of Josh from The Hating Game and Rhysand from ACOTAR…but he still isn’t quite as intriguing as either of them!

– Finally, a moment that had me slightly breathless and emotional, when Nyx and Ignifex were under the true sky, lying together in the grass, I’m a sucker for simple romance!

pg. 192: Oh lord, Nyx’s internal monogue is sooo repetitive!

As of pg. 238

– Things are finally getting A LOT more interesting. Codes are being cracked and lore is being explained. A romance is blossoming! This is what I wanted from page one…but is it too little, too late?

~ “And I was his delight and he was mine.” ~

– VERY reminiscent of Jane Eyre.

– I’ve read reviews that say that Nyx and Ignifex’s banter gets less witty and entertaining as they fall in love, and with that I must agree. What a shame!

As of pg. 269

– I like Astraia way better than Nyx actually! At least she has conviction and is more of a fighter. Honestly, I am 100% more intrigued now than I have been at any point before this.

– Nyx is so confusing! She will always love Ignifex and yet she is resigned to hurting him…but her mind flip-flops so easily and constantly. CHOOSE ONE THING AND JUST STICK TO IT! It is hard to keep up with her!

As of pg. 300

– I still feel like I barely understand who the Children of Typhon and the Kindly Ones are. I feel like everything will remain unexplained.

~ “I kissed him back like he was my only hope of breathing.” ~

– Okay, that quote is a good one!

……

WOAH! This ending is actually breaking my heart because I hate it when a lover loses her memory and is separated from her beloved! Could this redeem the whole story?

As of The End

– Okay, WOW! That ending was gorgeous and haunting and heart wrenching and dark and convoluted yet so simple. It sort of made the whole messed up story worthwhile because it was strangely beautiful and moving, that image of love holding on for dear life. I think it redeemed the whole novel for me. Wow! The most confusing reading experience I have ever had!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How do you even make sense of that? Like, do those notes even make any sort of sense? I have no idea! Truly, this book is just so utterly baffling – if I think too much about it and try to sort my feelings out, I think I might go crazy. I think this book is designed to make you go crazy as a reader – it’s like, you know that movie Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise that literally made no sense but was oddly brilliant and impossible to look away from? Yeah, that’s the film equivalent of Cruel Beauty. It was like impossible to decipher but impossible not to want to.

ARGH! I. Just. Do. Not. Know. *siiiiiigh*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart