The Idiot ~ #JNGReads

The Idiot by Elif Batuman is a book I can say I REALLY liked, without hesitation. Although I expected to LOVE it when I began (and probably give it a 5-star rating), the narration and plot started to drag a little for me toward the halfway point…however, I still thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and found many moments to be laugh out loud funny and highly entertaining.

The Idiot is a novel that I think recent college and university graduates would find very compelling. I graduated from the University of Toronto only a short while ago, and so the experiences of attending lectures, completing long and arduous research papers, and developing friendships with a wide array of likeminded individuals are fresh in my mind. This meant that I instantly connected with the main character and narrator of The Idiot, Selin, and I found her interactions and anxieties to be relatable and realistic. Selin immediately comes across as very intelligent, if a bit socially awkward, and I enjoyed reading about her various classes, particularly her linguistics course, which reminded me of my own first-year linguistics class, and some of her stranger seminars like the Crooked Worlds “art” class she finds herself a part of. I also found it ingenious on Batuman’s part that she included samples of Selin’s required readings in the text of the novel: the references to Noam Chomsky’s theories brought me right back to Linguistics 101, and I particularly enjoyed the short “novel” Nina in Siberia that Selin is required to reading for her Introductory Russian course and which the reader is invited to study along with her. Pieces of Nina in Siberia became my favourite aspects of the novel, and I found it interesting to receive Selin’s thoughts about the text, from her academic perspective, because it felt as though Selin and I were fellow students, working through our course text together before a big exam. Batuman expertly writes about the college/university experience, and this was a topic I for one really appreciated. Obviously, this sort of text won’t be for everyone, but it definitely was one I easily became immersed in.

“It was hard to decide on a literature class. Everything the professor said seemed to be somehow beside the point. You wanted to know why Anna had to die, and instead they told you that nineteenth-century Russian landowners felt conflicted about whether they were really a part of Europe. The implication was that it was somehow naïve to want to talk about anything interesting, or to think that you would ever know anything important.”

As I mentioned previously, Selin is also a deeply self-conscious character, and this made her all the more human. Selin is confident in many academic ways, trying out classes that I never would’ve had the courage to enroll in during my own university years. She is, however, very self-conscious when it comes to her interactions with her fellow students, particularly her friend, Ivan. Selin and Ivan first begin their communications over the newly invented email, and although they have Russian class together, most of their conversations for two thirds of the novel are entirely in written form. This puts Selin in a peculiar position of being in love with Ivan, but of also being totally unable to speak to him in person. Both Selin and Ivan have difficulty navigating this “relationship” that they’ve created, and a large portion of the novel is devoted to Selin trying to figure out how Ivan feels about her and existing in this sort of limbo full of unrequited and confusing emotions. In this way, Batuman does an excellent job of portraying the uncertainties of being a first-year university student – the fact that you are treated like an adult, and yet still maintain the uncertainties of an adolescent life of the not so distant past. Selin is at once an adult with responsibilities and freedoms, but from an emotional perspective, she is still very much a child, a high school student, and so Batuman is able to explore the complexities of first love and of finding oneself in an environment of people with equally complex personalities.

“But, to me, nineteen still felt old and somehow alien to who I was. It occurred to me that it might take more than a year – maybe as many as seven years – to learn to feel nineteen.”

Selin’s friendships are also explored, and it is interesting to watch her interact with female characters like Svetlana and her roommates. Selin’s dry wit and humour make her interactions with her female friends often seem stilted and one-sided, but it also becomes clear very quickly that Selin is well-liked, especially by Svetlana, whose personality is so markedly different from Selin’s that it is very interesting to watch their friendship blossom and to witness the ways that these two young women support each other. I found the interpersonal relationships in this novel to be fascinating, and I even enjoyed the brief moments when Selin interacts with her mother and feels as though she must justify her decisions and actions, particularly those involving Ivan, to this thoroughly adult figure.

“‘I’m afraid I’ll accidentally eat it all before I get there,’ I said, following the rule that you had to pretend to have this problem where you couldn’t resist chocolate.”

My major qualm with the novel is that it began to feel a bit long towards the end. This is pretty paradoxical because the entire novel is only just over 400 pages, but I started to feel at around the 250-page mark that it was crawling by. Maybe this is because not much happens and the novel seems to be more of a character study than a plot-driven story, but I found that as Selin becomes more involved with Ivan, her narration becomes less interesting and engaging. This is somewhat fitting because Selin discusses how she is beginning to lose her language and her ability to communicate the more she becomes invested in her “relationship” with Ivan, but it also made it harder to be invested in her, as a reader. I missed the wit and sarcasm that she articulates in the first half of the novel, and I found myself laughing much less as the novel went on. (Sidenote: I literally burst out laughing while reading the scenes when Selin is teaching her ESL student…and where were the moments like this in the last half of the novel? They felt non-existent!) By the end of the novel, I felt as though I was just plugging away, trying to turn the pages as fast as I could to get to the point where something would happen. Again, I realize that this is more of a character study, and I appreciate that, but I felt as though Selin’s distinct character was what was lacking in the latter half of the novel. The last 100 pages just felt like more of the same, and I guess I was craving some spark or insight, some profound statement that I don’t feel I ever really got.

All in all, though, I would highly recommend The Idiot to current or recently graduated college/university students because I believe they will relate easily to Selin’s character and be able to insert themselves into her experiences. There is no doubt that The Idiot is well-written and I look forward to reading whatever Batuman produces next, as well as delving into some of her non-fiction, which I have heard great things about.

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart


The Perfect Nanny ~ #JNGReads

I must admit from the start that there will inevitably be SPOILERS about The Perfect Nanny in this review. It’s difficult to talk about the plot or premise at all without them, so if you’d like to go into the novel not knowing anything about it, do not read any further. It should suffice for me to say that I am in an utter fog now, having just finished it…I don’t really know what to say, but here goes nothing…

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani is an absolutely chilling read.

I first came across this novel on Instagram, where the cover enticed me to find out more about it. Depicting a blue and white, Peter Pan collared shirt, the cover suggests that this story will have something to do with false appearances. The buttons are done up too perfectly, the shirt is too crisp, the blue too clean, the white too pristine…there is something behind this perfect façade that cannot be quite so immaculate.

I then read the tagline for the novel, which was on the cover of the book in this particular photo I was looking at on Instagram. It turns out that this tagline is in fact the first phrase of the novel, which sets the tone for what is to come…

“The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds.”

My blood ran cold when I read that line, and yet I was intrigued enough to put the novel on my To-Read List. When I saw it in Chapters a few days later, my fate was sealed – I purchased it, started reading it that very same day, and have now finished it, two days later.

As I said before, The Perfect Nanny is haunting, disturbing, disgusting, heartbreaking, terrifying… It is so many horrific things that it is almost impossible to describe. It’s not that graphic, to be perfectly honest, and yet there is this underlying sense of discomfort from start to finish, this anxiety on the part of the reader because we know how things are going to turn out, and it turns our stomach not to be able to look away from this inhumanity, the horrible tragedy of it all. Slimani is a masterful storyteller, and by choosing to begin her novel with the conclusion, the deaths of the two little children whose simple, adorable lives will then be described minutely, she draws the reader into this web of nerves and unsettled fears, she forces the reader to keep watching, to assume the status of voyeur, to accept this incapacity to change a thing coupled with this inability to look away.

Slimani also writes in such a literary style, and although the phrases are clipped and concise and not overly descriptive, she paints this blurry, hazy picture of a life that could belong to anyone. As a reader, we can put ourselves into the role of any of these characters, because Slimani leaves enough room for interpretation, of actions and events, of thoughts and desires. There is much that seems to be written between the lines of Slimani’s narration, there is mystery in the scenes she paints so vaguely and in such a simple style. It is almost as if Slimani is presenting us with an allusion to an occurrence, rather than a picture of the occurrence itself. Events are veiled just enough to keep them interesting, and yet the characters are left raw and exposed, open to criticism and hatred and contempt. Slimani’s story is heavily a character study, and so the plot points themselves fade seamlessly into the background of the text, leaving these complicated characters at the forefront, and helplessly open to the reader’s scrutiny.

It is not only the so-called “perfect nanny” who is open for examination. Slimani leaves all of her characters bare, from the parents Paul and Myriam who mean well but are tragically blind to the strangeness around them, to the “perfect nanny” Louise’s daughter and husband, to the friends and colleagues of Paul and Myriam who are just as oblivious as they are. There is so much to unravel and investigate within the very few pages of The Perfect Nanny (it is, after all, only 228 pages in total), and the reader is left at the end with this disturbing feeling that no conclusion whatsoever has been reached, that nothing has been solved, that things are more muddled and confusing and upsetting than they were even in the beginning, when that first phrase “The baby is dead” is declared.

What is abundantly clear, though, is that the children, Mila and Adam, are innocent. They are children, and so they are at once frustrating and endearing, loud and serene, hyper and soothed, but always, always lovable. The reader is left, at the end, with this overwhelming feeling of sadness that, because of a nanny’s obsession and the inability of two parents to fully comprehend the depths of her despair and illness, two totally innocent children have been made to suffer. That is an awful feeling to be left with, and yet it makes the novel truly unforgettable and so poignant and important.

I feel that there is a lesson somewhere in The Perfect Nanny, and yet I can’t quite grasp what it is. Not being a parent myself, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to raise a child, let alone more than one, and yet I can imagine that it would be very difficult to leave one’s children with a nanny or a caregiver. And yet, for so many families, there is no other option, when two incomes are required, and no relatives or friends are available for babysitting. At the same time, though, it seems that Paul and Myriam are blind to many of Louise’s abusive behaviours toward the children, both emotional and physical, and although they occasionally become wary of her actions, they fail to do anything about the situation that strikes them as odd. So who is to blame for this horrible crime? Surely Louise because she is the perpetrator, the child murderer…but could the circumstances of this travesty not have been avoided? I just don’t know. Like I mentioned, I feel as though Slimani is trying to make a statement with The Perfect Nanny, she is trying to offer a moral, and insight to the reader…but I just haven’t uncovered what it is yet. And perhaps that’s just it: maybe each reader is supposed to have a slightly different interpretation of the events and the characters? In any case, what I do know for sure is that The Perfect Nanny is well-written, deep and hard to swallow, and it is not for the faint of heart.

“Adam is dead. Mila will be too, soon.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

99 Days ~ #JNGReads

Literally nothing happens in this book…nothing at all.

“‘What do you want, Molly Barlow?’ he asks, and he sounds so tired of me. ‘I mean it, what could you possibly want from me?’”

I just finished reading Katie Cotugno’s young adult romance novel 99 Days and I have to say immediately that I am disappointed. When I read Cotugno’s first novel, How To Love, last year, I was very impressed by her unique writing style and the way her character’s narrative voice instantly sucked me in and made me empathize with her. With 99 Days, I felt like the uniqueness and strength of Cotugno’s voice was missing, and the novel felt like 300-plus pages of a bunch of self-centered, bland, nothing-special teenagers doing absolutely nothing. I wasn’t thrilled by or even remotely interested in it.

99 Days follows recent high school graduate Molly Barlow during 99 days of summer when she returns to her hometown before leaving for college. She left her hometown for senior year because of a bunch of drama between her, her now ex-boyfriend and her ex’s brother. Obviously, a love triangle is established, and I understand exactly what Cotugno was trying to do with her story: she was trying to present this coming of age story in which a group of friends who grew up together and were inseparable are challenged by the complicated feelings of infatuation, love and lust that emerge as they enter into adulthood. I get it…but unfortunately, I don’t think Cotugno tackles these concepts well whatsoever in 99 Days.

As I said before, nothing happens in this novel…like seriously, there is no climax, no monumental point of clarity, no excitement or intrigue whatsoever. It literally was like reading a teenage girl’s diary, documenting a summer when she goes to work, occasionally makes out with a hot guy, then makes out with his brother, runs every morning, watches a few documentaries on Netflix, maybe hangs out with her girlfriends for a few hours…and that’s it. I get that that sounds like a lot of things happening, which in theory it is, but it’s not enough to make a novel out of. This was one of the most mundane, boring stories I’ve ever read because it felt just as repetitive as an actual summer in high school, when you’re not old or independent enough to go anywhere or have any adventures, so you basically just hang around the house, binge-watching TV shows and movies and creeping your hot classmates on Facebook or Instagram with your friends. If Cotugno was hoping to make 99 Days more of a character study than a plot-driven novel, unfortunately none of her characters are strong enough to accomplish this. Molly, Patrick and Gabe Donnelly, and all the other cast of characters, were the most average teenagers I’ve ever come across in literature, and none of them go through any real process of maturing or developing emotionally. They are very flat characters, and I was left at the end with this feeling that I had wasted a bunch of my time following an unspectacular cast doing unspectacular things.

“I’m ashamed of myself, truly. It’s inexcusable, what I did to Tess.”

I also found it impossible to like Molly at all, which was really unfortunate considering she’s the story’s narrator. Molly is positively insufferable, and even the other characters in the novel are sick of her by the end of it, with very good reason. Molly is incredibly selfish, egotistical and totally unaware of what a destructive personality she has. Even when she says she’s embarrassed about something or feels badly about it, she still does it, and honestly, she goes all the way with these terrible acts…not halfway, not kind of doing something and then stopping because she realizes what a mistake it is…ALL THE WAY, EVERY TIME. I understand that being a teenager is tough, and I’m sympathetic to that – I certainly don’t expect Molly to be this perfect angel because that wouldn’t be interesting either. But, there are certain lines that it’s pretty clear you shouldn’t cross in life and in love, and Molly crosses every single one of them, emerging on the other side as this totally awful friend and person. What’s most frustrating is that she recognizes how awful she is being to the people around her, and yet she does all these horrible things anyway, even asking herself on multiple occasions what she’s thinking or what she’s doing, but not stopping. It’s irritating at best and totally, beyond-belief frustrating and off-putting at worst. I couldn’t warm up to Molly, didn’t want to, to be honest, and I never ever would want her as a friend. So, from page one, I wasn’t off to a good start with her.

“I head over to the Donnellys’ the next evening to watch some weird Canadian import show Gabe can’t get enough of, everybody dressed in plaid and saying ‘aboot’ all the time.”

The quote above is actually one of the most annoying sentences I have ever read in a book in my entire life – call me a die-hard Canadian or whatever, but this is just simply poor and lazy writing. I get that maybe Cotugno is trying to be satirical and ironic, but in this particular sentence, it doesn’t come across that way, and on the contrary, this tasteless joke about “Canadian culture” comes across as narrow-minded and offensive. I wouldn’t be so put-off by this sort of thing normally, but the whole novel is full of lazy jokes and sarcasm and references to pop culture that Cotugno seems to use to just make herself look smart. She mentions Bon Iver playing on iPod speakers, she brings up Paul Newman randomly, she has Molly watching documentaries about Mary Shelley, she makes Molly’s best friend Imogen an expert at reading tarot cards, Molly’s mother is a bestselling author…okay, Cotugno is trying to make her characters diverse and versatile and well-rounded and unique, but nothing in their actions, manner of speaking or actual personalities is any of these things, so the references just come across as humble brags and pats on the back rather than any sort of character development tools. And then this jab at Canadian television came and it all just felt too forced, too over-the-top sarcastic and dry and not at all witty or well done. This is probably what disappointed me the most about 99 Days because I found Cotugno’s writing to be so refreshing when I read How To Love because in that case the pop culture references worked really well and the characters were fresh and exciting to read about. I don’t know if Cotugno lost a bit of her edge or if this subject matter just wasn’t doing it for me, but I was seriously let down by this second foray into her catalogue.

Bottom line, there is one more novel by Katie Cotugno that I have lined up to read this year, and I’m going to in the hopes that 99 Days was just a misstep or that it just didn’t jive well with me. I want to give Cotugno’s writing another chance because I enjoyed How To Love…but 99 Days I would have to say was a miss.

❥❥ (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

The Book Thief ~ #JNGReads

Here I am, reading another book that I feel utterly unqualified to review. This one I mostly read, and just now finished, on days when I’ve been battling a horrible flu, so forgive me for any incoherency in this review. That being said, I feel that it was almost fitting that I read this novel during a period of sickness, when I was on the verge of hallucination and could almost walk alongside the narrator through the scenes he described.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a novel I wish I had read in high school. This is not to say that it is juvenile in any manner – quite the contrary – but what I mean by saying this is that The Book Thief feels to me like the sort of story that should be experienced by students very early on in their educations. It would’ve been oh so fitting for me to delve into this particular novel during my grade 10 History class, when I first properly learned what the Holocaust was and what that term meant, and I wish I had thought to pick up The Book Thief around the same time I read The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night. The reason that I wish I had been exposed to the story contained in The Book Thief at a time when I was learning all about Hitler’s reign, genocide and World War II is that The Book Thief takes an approach to discussing the Holocaust that is unlike any I have previously encountered.

Of course, Zusak’s story details the wrongful persecution of the Jews living in Germany and many other countries in Europe during Hitler’s reign. Through the character of Max Vandenburg and many other nameless Jewish people, Zusak offers a heart-wrenching depiction of what it meant to be Jewish in Nazi-occupied Germany, of what it meant to hate Hitler, to feel unjustifiably condemned by him, and to live your life secluded in a dark basement for years on end. There are allusions to the grotesque concentration camps and to the suffering of 6 million innocent people. There are references made to the intense hatred and anguish that these innocent people felt toward a man who chose to call himself “leader”, and who was blindly followed. There are certainly moments of horror.

But, what Zusak also chooses to do in The Book Thief, and what I thoroughly appreciated from my role of reader, was emphasize the suffering and turmoil of many innocent German people, those citizens who equally despised Hitler, who were similarly condemned by him, and who met their own tragic ends. Zusak chronicles the life of a German girl, Liesel Meminger, and her relationship with her German foster parents and her German best friend, all the while highlighting the fact that these characters despise Hitler, yet feel powerless to stop or combat him. Certainly Liesel’s foster parents do their best to fight the Nazi regime, particularly by taking Jewish man Max Vandenburg into their basement and harbouring him safely there. However, when Liesel’s foster parents, and her best friend Rudy and his parents, attempt to stand up to the Nazi regime in any meaningful way, they are also persecuted, whipped, beaten, sent away from their families. Although it is made clear many times in the narration of The Book Thief (more on the particular narrative style in a moment) that Liesel and her family members and friends will never suffer in the same horrific way as the Jewish people, they also face their own tragedies and awful, painful deaths. There is no optimism in this tale, and yet the reader is made to understand that Nazi-occupied Germany was Hell not only for the Jews who lived there, but also for the quiet, unsuspecting German people who wanted nothing to do with Hitler and his bigotry and prejudice.

“[Liesel] wondered how many letters like that were sent out as punishment to Germany’s Hans Hubermanns and Alex Steiners – to those who helped the helpless, and those who refused to let go of their children.”

“‘When they come and ask you for one of your children,’ Barbara Steiner explained, to no one in particular, ‘you’re supposed to say yes.’”

Personally, I can’t say I ever gave much thought to what it would feel like to be a German citizen living during World War II. I have, on numerous occasions, read novels that made me empathize and sympathize with the Jewish people who were oppressed, but I never took the time to think about how it would feel to be an innocent German citizen, one who loves and has a kind and gentle heart and must watch as their country is made into a living Hell for so many people. There must have been so much shame and disgrace and desperation in that, and I truly appreciated that The Book Thief offered me the chance to get into the minds of some of these German citizens, to realize just how hard it was for them to witness what their “leader” was doing, how hard that must’ve been to stomach. It also made me question myself and my own convictions: would I have had the courage to open my home to some of the Jewish people, like Hans Hubermann did? If I was a child at the time, would I have been able, like Liesel, to become friends with a Jewish man and risk my life just to say Goodbye to him and hold his hand one last time? Like Rudy Steiner, would I choose to skip my Hitler Youth classes and defy the doctrines and regulations of the time, risking being whipped and beaten and persecuted? I will never ever know, and it is a serious privilege to not have to consider these questions because of the dumb luck of being born in a different time. The Book Thief challenged my perceptions and assumptions, however; it forced me to sit down and think about the people whose perspectives I hadn’t previously considered, and for that reason, it was a highly educational, life-altering and poignant read. This is why I would recommend that any and all high school students read this novel, while learning about the destruction of World War II.

Apart from being a profound and influential text, The Book Thief is also very well written. I don’t know if this is a spoiler (forgive me, but I don’t think it is since you learn about this on page 1) but Zusak chooses Death as his narrator for the story, and in my opinion, this was a perfect choice. Zusak’s Death is much less sinister and horror movie-esque than one would expect, and Death actually tells the tale of Liesel and her loved ones with such sentimentality and feeling that it is impossible not to be drawn to him as a narrator. I found myself empathizing with Death in many ways, as he described having to take away the souls of so many innocent people during World War II. Death is a sympathetic and tortured character in The Book Thief, and it is clear from the start that he hates his job, hates Hitler, hates war and wants nothing at all to do with suffering. It is really interesting to view the events of the Holocaust from this perspective, to see the endless pain and agonizing devastation from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator who is at once complicit in the tragedy but wishes he could be removed from it. Death speaks of Liesel so lovingly that it is hard not to feel sorry for him, it is hard not to wish that he could be exempt from his job, particularly in the moments when it affects Liesel the most. I’m struggling to remember if I’ve ever read a novel narrated by Death before (I feel like I must have, but it escapes me at the moment), but regardless, I can confidently say that Zusak does an excellent job of using Death’s narration as this means to toy with his readers’ emotions and force them to look at the concept of death itself from a totally new vantage point.

I hope some aspects, at least, of this review made sense, but as I said, my reading of The Book Thief was a rather hallucinatory experience. Whether that is because I was feeling sick or because the novel is written in such a hard-hitting, unrestrained manner is hard to say. It seems that Zusak wants to hit right at the reader’s heart, and yes, mine has been weakened recently due to cold and fever…but I have a feeling that even if I was at my strongest, The Book Thief would’ve penetrated right to the depths of my human soul nevertheless.

“I have hated the words and

I have loved them,

and I hope I have made them right.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*Although this novel does deal with very mature themes and is vulgar at times, I highly recommend that it be read by high school students everywhere!


Girl with a Green Heart

The Roanoke Girls ~ #JNGReads

How does an author come up with an idea like this?

I don’t mean any disrespect to Amy Engel. This is a legitimate question I am asking. How does an author come up with a concept for a novel that is so deeply disturbing, strange and sinister? I don’t know where this sort of plot could possibly spring from – it must be from a mind much more creative, or perhaps haunted, than mine. It would really make a good basis for the next season of American Horror Story or something!

The Roanoke Girls is a controversial novel…that much is probably an understatement. As many other reviewers have mentioned, it’s virtually impossible to say anything about the plot without giving it away. I’ve also seen reviewers mention that it is best to go into The Roanoke Girls knowing as little as possible about it, and I have to agree with that. The plot is so twisted and unsettling that I feel the right kind of reader will enjoy reading it with that minor description alone, without looking up a synopsis prior. And any sort of real synopsis would have to contain major spoilers anyway.

That being said, The Roanoke Girls is absolutely not the sort of novel that every reader should dive into, and even readers of primarily mysteries or thrillers should give it serious consideration before picking it up. Although it is compulsively and addictively written, it also deals with subject matter that can be extremely upsetting at times, such as sexual abuse, sexual manipulation and child abuse, to name a few. Other reviewers have listed the exact triggers far more thoroughly and accurately than I ever could, and I would encourage any reader who is thinking of picking up The Roanoke Girls to read one or two spoiler free reviews before doing so to be sure that it is the right novel for them. For many it isn’t, and I can certainly understand why!

Having said all of this, and considering that I did find the relationships in The Roanoke Girls to be very dysfunctional and in some cases disgusting, I did actually enjoy reading the novel. I think this is largely down to how it is written: Engel creates a narrator in Lane Roanoke who is at once hardened and emotional, world-weary and trusting. Lane was definitely my favourite part of the novel because, although she is very damaged in many ways, she is also unfailingly loyal and loving in a lot of surprising ways too. She is also fearless without denying her fears, brave without keeping her eyes closed to the injustices and inhumanities of the world, and her quick wit, sharp comebacks and sarcasm really endeared me to her. She surely isn’t a perfect character, or even a perfect and unbiased narrator for that matter, but she is interesting and complex, and I appreciated that as a reader. There was a lot to unpack in all of the characters, but particularly in Lane who I believe hides so much turmoil and angst amidst her narration.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t put The Roanoke Girls down, even in the moments when it disturbed me, and I found that I blazed through it when I sat down to read. Despite that, though, one major criticism I have with it is the pacing. While Lane is a great narrator and the story itself is addictive in that the reader wants to get to the bottom of the puzzle and mystery that is the Roanoke family, a lot of the family’s secrets are revealed at the very start of the novel, and then nothing much happens, no situations change and no new details are revealed, until much later in the story. It felt, to me, like there was some dead/dry space in the middle of the story, when Lane is waiting for her cousin Allegra to be found. Although the flashing back between past and present helped some, I still got the sense, after plowing through around 70 pages in the middle of the novel in one sitting, that nothing much had happened and that the story wasn’t moving forward at all and had pretty much stayed put. At the same time though, like I mentioned, I couldn’t stop reading…so this is a paradox I haven’t yet figured out.

To summarize this rambly review: The Roanoke Girls was fascinating – that’s probably the best word I can use to describe it. It will turn your stomach at times, you’ll want to put it down or throw it against a wall, but it is guaranteed to get a reaction from you, whatever it may be. I’m glad I read it and found out what all the hype was about, but I don’t know that I would rush out to read another novel just like it anytime soon (or ever).

❥❥❥ (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

Jane Steele ~ #JNGReads

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is an excellent read! I highly recommend this one to fans of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre because it is a lot of fun, and offers a surprising spin on Brontë’s original classic.

I decided to read Jane Steele for two reasons: the first is that my best friend and fellow avid reader, CV, has been recommending it to me for at least a year; the second is that, as I get closer and closer to my Victorian-inspired wedding, I am planning to read as many novels related to Jane Eyre as possible, ending with an actual re-read of the classic a week before my wedding. Jane Steele marks the first novel I chose to read as part of what I am affectionately calling The Jane Eyre Initiative of 2017. And, I’ll start by bluntly stating that I am very glad I finally decided to read Faye’s book. It is not perfect by any means: there are some flaws with it that create a bit of confusion for the reader that is hard to overlook (and which necessarily caused me to decrease my overall rating of the book by 1 star). However, Jane Steele is extremely entertaining, and it is remarkable to me how expertly Faye employs a Victorian narrative voice. It really felt as though I was reading a traditional Victorian novel, and I liked Jane Steele instantly because of how forthright, honest and transparent she is both as a narrator and as a character. Whereas at times we are called, as readers, to question the narrative that Jane Eyre presents to us as well as feel frustration about her inability to fully express her emotions to the other characters in Brontë’s novel, Jane Steele is 100% honest with her audience about her preoccupations and concerns, and she is also an open book with the characters she interacts with. All of this allowed me to trust Jane Steele while simultaneously feeling empathy toward her. I wasn’t expecting to like her as much as I did, but I find now that she has become one of my favourite narrators that I’ve encountered in a long time.

Not only is Jane Steele an impressive and unique character, the story she tells is also unlike anything I’ve read in a while. To piggyback on what other reviewers have said, Jane Steele is NOT a retelling of Jane Eyre; instead, it is an entirely new story with similarities to that of Miss Eyre (more on this in a moment). The plot, characters and locations resemble those in Brontë’s much beloved novel, but there is enough distinction to make it clear that Jane Steele is its own story. It is also very fascinating that Jane Steele herself reads Jane Eyre, and as a narrator, she makes many references to Jane Eyre and to Jane’s character. She also quotes pieces of Jane Eyre at the start of each one of her own chapters, which is a delightful treat and which also indicates to the reader what is to come in the chapter. Jane Steele feels almost like a love letter to Jane Eyre; it is as if a huge fan of Jane Eyre (such as myself) decided to write her own story while constantly making allusions to how Jane Eyre has influenced and shaped her life and character. That is precisely what Jane Steele does: she tells her OWN, distinct story, while continually mentioning how Jane Eyre has made an impact on the woman she is. I absolutely loved how this was approached by Faye because I could see myself doing the exact same thing if I were to write a memoir!

There’s also so much to love about Jane Steele as a work of fiction itself: it is dark, macabre and gothic, but there are also moments of sarcasm and wit (particularly between Jane and her love interest, Mr. Thornfield) that take the reader pleasantly by surprise. Jane Steele is a bit ballsier than Jane Eyre, and she isn’t afraid to flirt, swear and generally hold her own in a conversation. She is not the governess who hides behind the curtain or shrinks into the wallpaper. Faye also does an excellent job portraying Indian culture in her treatment of the new occupants of Highgate House, and I truly felt as though she handled the concept of the “other” with tact and expertise. I found myself becoming so interested in the culture of Sahjara and Sardar Singh, and the overall ambience at Highgate House was warm, inviting and intoxicating. There wasn’t a character in the entire novel that I didn’t like; even Jane’s awful aunt Barbary and cousin Edwin were portrayed in a way that made them necessary to the structure of the story and that added something significant to the plot and to Jane’s character.

Honestly, there’s not much not to love about Jane Steele because it is just the wildest ride and is so well-written! Having said that, I couldn’t give it a full 5-star rating and that is actually down to the fact that I think it relied too heavily on similarities to Jane Eyre at points. As I mentioned, I really liked the fact that Jane Steele is a huge fan of Jane Eyre and that she uses this affection and passion as a tool to write her own memoir. The references to points in Jane Eyre that resemble moments in her own life, as well as the inclusion of important quotes from Jane Eyre, was really well done and not something I at all had an issue with. Instead, I found problematic the fact that much more of Jane Steele’s life resembles and is nearly identical to Jane Eyre’s life, and yet Jane Steele fails to mention or highlight these aspects. For example, the very fact that Jane Steele’s name is Jane or that her love interest’s name is Mr. Thornfield, which is obviously a nod to the setting of Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall…to me, it is strange that Jane Steele wouldn’t mention what a coincidence it is that so many of the names of people she encounters line up with those in her favourite novel. I don’t know how to properly articulate this, but it almost felt as though Faye was dropping hints to the reader about how similar Jane Steele’s story is to Jane Eyre’s, and yet she fails to make those hints visible to the fan of Jane Eyre she creates herself, Jane Steele. It’s almost like Faye wants the reader to say, Oh hey, that’s a cute nod to Jane Eyre! while simultaneously making her own character oblivious to this connection. It was a bit confusing to me. In the same vein, it made no sense to me that Jane Steele also has a tumultuous relationship with her aunt and cousin, and also attends a horrendous boarding school, and yet doesn’t address the fact that these details are so close to those endured by her literary heroine. It felt to me that Jane Steele’s trajectory was TOO SIMILAR to Jane Eyre’s in many regards…I would’ve preferred if instead, Jane Steele’s story diverged more clearly from that of Jane Eyre in terms of major plot points, but without omitting the moments when Jane Steele reflects on how Jane Eyre shaped her identity.

The best way to explain this clearly is probably to use myself as an example: I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in grade 12, and it hugely shaped who I am in terms of my ideals, my literary preferences, my passions, etc. In many ways, my life resembles Jane’s in that I have had to stand up to authority figures on multiple occasions, in that I worked as an English tutor to young children for many years, and in that I stumbled upon my fiancé unexpectedly and he, much like Mr. Rochester, has a checkered past of romantic foibles. There are more examples of how I identify with Jane Eyre, and more become clear to me every day, BUT my life is not identical to Jane in ways that are major and impossible to overlook: I am not an orphan, I did not attend a boarding school, I did not work as a governess in an employer’s home, etc. So, were I to write a memoir, I would absolutely emphasize the points in my own story that remind me of Jane Eyre’s and make frequent reference to Charlotte Brontë’s novel and the influence it has had on me, but my life would not come across as eerily similar to Jane’s. I feel like Faye should’ve taken this approach to Jane Steele: yes, it is a great idea to make Jane Steele’s story harken back to Jane Eyre’s in subtle ways, but to have these overwhelmingly obvious plot points that are identical to those in Jane Eyre, or to give characters names that are identical to those used in Jane Eyre, seemed too heavy-handed to me. I simply wish that Jane Steele was a touch more unique and didn’t rely on Jane Eyre’s plot so frequently…and I think that these glaring similarities are what make readers think Jane Steele is a Jane Eyre retelling, which it most certainly is not and which is an assumption that I believe takes away from how poignant and brilliant Jane Steele is in its own right.

Overall, Jane Steele was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As I said, a few things about the plot could’ve been tweaked to give it more credibility as a unique, new and fresh story, but I would still highly recommend it and I may even read it again one day.

My Favourite Quotes from Jane Steele

(To entice you to pick it up because it is just so well-written!)

“I felt these insults, reader, and I collected them, strung them like sand hardened pearls, and I wore them, invisible; I wear them today.”

If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it: I will be another embodied disaster.

But I will be a beautiful disaster.

“Swallowing, I placed the cheque in my reticule with the two letters. I did this, reader, because the most idiotic thing Jane Eyre ever did other than to leave in the first place was to depart without her pearl necklace and half Mr. Rochester’s fortune, which he would gladly have given her. If she had been eaten by a bear upon fleeing penniless into the wilderness, I should have shaken that bear’s paw.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

Ugly Love ~ #JNGReads

As it turns out, I’m not a fan of Colleen Hoover.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion and one I fear I may be crucified for. But, I have my reasons, which I am hoping to clearly explain in this review of Ugly Love. I have only read two books by Colleen Hoover in my life, both during this year. The first was It Ends with Us; by the time I finished that novel, I had the sense that I really enjoyed it, but I think that had a lot to do with how emotional it was in the end and how powerful the subject matter was. When I look back, I find that I don’t remember the characters that well and I don’t feel like I truly connected to any of them in a lasting sort of way. I also distinctly remember not being able to get into Hoover’s writing style, and finding it somewhat annoying in places. However, I have heard so many great things about Hoover’s writing that I knew I would eventually have to give another one of her books a try.

For all these reasons, when I was in Chapters days before my birthday trying to decide what book to use my birthday Plum Rewards coupon on, I made my way to the Colleen Hoover section. I thought maybe, since I had a coupon and wouldn’t be spending too much money on the book, I could afford to pick up another one of hers to feel like I gave her the good ol’ college try! I don’t know why Ugly Love caught my attention because I had never heard of it before, but it did, and I found myself flipping to a random page and reading a few lines that really made me eager to delve into the whole novel. I think it was a part where Tate is feeling particularly heartbroken and lost about her “relationship” with Miles and I just felt like I couldn’t put the book back down and abandon the characters.

But honestly, I wish I did. This is not to say that the book is bad, whatsoever; on the contrary, I didn’t hate reading it at all. I just didn’t find that I loved or even liked reading it, and I believe that it just wasn’t worth it for me to pick up this novel right now, in a year when I have read some absolutely amazing stories that were of course going to overshadow one like this. It simply wasn’t the right time for me to pick up Ugly Love, and although I don’t think I would’ve really liked it no matter when I picked it up, I don’t think I would’ve been quite so annoyed with it if I picked it up, say, midway through next year instead. It felt a bit like a waste of my time right now.

Why did I feel this way about this book? Well, as I said there are a few reasons actually, each of which I will go through in turn…

Firstly, I didn’t like any of the characters. Period. This is a huge deal for me because I’m more interested in the characters in any book I read than in any single other detail (including world building and plot structure). I connect to characters fiercely and vehemently, and when that doesn’t happen for me, I find it really hard to enjoy a story. For some people, maybe hating characters is a strong enough emotion to entertain them, but for me it’s just not; I have to LOVE, or at the very least like, at minimum one of the main characters or I find it really hard to like a novel. In the case of Ugly Love, both Tate and Miles annoyed me to NO END. Listen, we’ve all been there or seen people who are there: in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to fall in love and is vocal about that, yet still adamant that we can change them and convince them to have feelings for us, because we’re freaking amazing and no one can love them better! I’m not arguing that this isn’t a realistic scenario or that we don’t all kind of do some arguably pretty stupid things in these sorts of situations. Been there, done that…guilty as charged! What annoyed me about Tate and Miles, though, is that everything is sooo over the top and melodramatic. I get it, Miles went through an awful tragedy and I’m not disputing that…but the guy is WEIRD! It’s almost like he’s a sociopath at times and he’s emotionally abusive in many ways. What drove me most crazy, though, is how Tate responds to that. She LIKES IT! Okay, I don’t want to judge someone else’s relationship, but what bothers me is that Tate recognizes and vocalizes on several occasions that she is NOT happy and that she feels like Miles is controlling or (Hoover’s favourite word in Ugly Love) “invading” her, and yet she does nothing to stop it. She even talks about how apparently powerless she is to leave him, and I just wasn’t a fan of this. I like my heroines to be strong, self-assured and confident and Tate did not strike me as any of those things.

“Now he knows exactly how much I’m not Tate when I’m near him. I’m only liquid. Conforming. Doing what he asks, doing what I’m told, doing what he wants me to do.”

“‘Make me leave,’ [Miles] says, his voice pleading and warm against my throat. ‘You don’t need this.’ He’s kissing his way up my throat, breaking for breath only when he speaks. ‘I just don’t know how to stop wanting you. Tell me to go and I’ll go.’

I don’t tell him to go. I shake my head. ‘I can’t.’

I turn my face toward his just as he’s worked his way up to my mouth, then I grab his shirt and pull him to me, knowing exactly what I’m doing to myself. I know this time won’t end any prettier than the other times, but I still want it just as much. If not more.”

Secondly, I did not like how Ugly Love was written, and based on my similar experience with It Ends with Us, I’m leaning towards believing that I just don’t vibe with Hoover’s writing style. I’ve read a few reviews that talked about how repetitive Hoover’s writing is, and I 100% agree with that; the thing is, though, that it’s not just repetitive in terms of literal words or sentences (although, believe me, it is that too), it’s also repetitive in terms of concepts. If I have to read one more page of Tate discussing how scared she is that her thing, whatever it is, with Miles is going to end poorly, or one more page of Miles spouting how much he loves Rachel and everything is Rachel and the sun rises and sets for Rachel, I will seriously rip my hair out. It was fine in the beginning to read about these sorts of emotions, but it got old fast. Other than having a fair number of steamy sex scenes, nothing actually happens in the book, and that left me truly disappointed.

Thirdly, and along the same vein, what was up with the chapters in Miles’ point of view verging into verse? Nope, not feeling it, and from the reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only one! I have no issue with portions of verse in prose texts, but I do have an issue with it when the verse isn’t particularly good. Miles is not a poet, and clearly neither is Hoover, and so switching into verse when Miles got overly emotional just felt so damn cheesy that I couldn’t stand it after a while (well, actually, about 2 chapters into it). It felt very unnecessary for this to happen and it took me right out of the story and prevented me from connecting with Miles at some of the most crucial moments in the text. I feel that this was a very poor stylistic choice on Hoover’s part.

Damn, I really just s$@t all over this novel, didn’t I? I swear that wasn’t my intention but I just can’t find that many good things to say about it! It wasn’t awful at all…but it really wasn’t good either. At least not in my opinion, but if you love Hoover’s work, I’d say to give it a chance.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were Villains ~ #JNGReads

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a unique and engaging mystery novel, but unfortunately it failed to grip me quite as much as I thought it would.

It is nearly impossible to say anything about this novel’s plot without including spoilers, so I will keep my summary short. If We Were Villains follows the story of Oliver Marks (the narrator) and his 6 fellow students as they attend an acting program geared specifically toward performing Shakespeare. We first meet Oliver as he is being released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for a crime related to a tragedy that occurs during the students’ senior year at Dellecher. Oliver then recounts his story and the events leading up to his convictions, and we as readers piece together the story as we move closer toward Oliver’s trial and entrance into prison. In this sense, we already know the outcome/end of the story before it has even really begun.

This is a fantastic and fascinating premise for a mystery novel, and my issues in getting into the story did not have anything to do with the plot, which I found very intriguing. Rather, I found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters because I could not bring myself to like them or care what happened to them, including Oliver himself. Now that I sit down to write this review, I am finding it almost impossible to describe why I didn’t love the novel or the characters because each one of them was interesting enough. Each character had their own quirks, background and personality, but for some reason, they all fell flat for me and I found myself getting annoyed with them more than anything. I found Alexander to be irritating and thought his jokes weren’t funny and were poorly timed; I thought Meredith was self-centered and very difficult to get to know because she was such a total femme fatale stereotype and seemed to have no more layers than that; and I found that Wren and Filippa just faded into the background and didn’t stand out to me at all. Arguably, the three most interesting characters are James, Richard and Oliver, but I found James to be too much of a good guy, Richard too overdone as a villain, and Oliver just plain whiny. That was maybe the hardest part of the novel to accept, for me: I expected Oliver to be this super intricate character, and I wanted him to rival the unreliable narrators I’ve encountered in such great novels as The Moonstone and, more recently, Gillespie and I. Instead, all Oliver seemed to do was get overly nostalgic and sentimental, idolize and dote on his fellow students, and overall absolve all of them of any of their guilt because he held them on such a high pedestal. It grated on my nerves at points and also made it hard for me to care about Oliver…which meant that I didn’t feel any real eagerness to learn why he ended up in prison or any anxiety about his situation because I sort of assumed his own stupidity landed him there.

Moreover, although I love Shakespeare and I’m the first to appreciate a quote from one of his plays coming from either the mouth of a real person or a fictional character, I found it totally heavy-handed how often Oliver and his school mates quoted the Bard. Sure, I get it, they are theatre students and they only act in Shakespearean plays, and having them say a couple quotes here and there in conversation would’ve been cool, but a significant portion of their dialogue came straight from Shakespeare’s plays (not to mention the scenes when they are actually acting on stage and large chunks of the plays are transcribed). This just made it even harder to connect with the characters because none of them really had a voice of their own. I felt like I knew Shakespeare better than any of the characters by the time I finished If We Were Villains. Not to mention the fact that since the quotes were interwoven into every day conversation, I found myself having to pause and dissect exactly how they fit into the scene I was reading and why the character would’ve chosen to speak that specific line. This was a jarring experience and took me right out of the drama and mystery every time it happened.

That being said, If We Were Villains is an enjoyable enough book. It’s not awful by any means, and I actually quite liked the plot, even if I didn’t like the characters. I think I should also note that I recently finished the Six of Crows duology which features such a strong cast of characters, all working together, that it was hard not to compare the 7 main characters of If We Were Villains to the strong and diverse group in Six of Crows. I’m sure there are many readers out there who would have better luck with If We Were Villains, and indeed, there are some rave reviews of it on Goodreads, so I encourage readers who like unique thrillers or who have a particular fondness for Shakespeare to give it a shot. Hopefully you’ll find something to connect to in it!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)


Girl with a Green Heart

The Place Between the Pillars ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Place Between the Pillars by Brandon Glossop is a novel that I would not have picked up of my own accord, but that every person should pick up and read at some point in their life. It follows the life of John Hall, an Afghanistan veteran who struggles to reintegrate himself into society after his service in the army and deals primarily with substance abuse issues, aspects of PTSD and extreme feelings of hatred and prejudice. While this is not normally the type of book I would rush to pick up and devour, it is one of the more important and poignant novels I have read this year, and it is undoubtedly full of subject matter that every person should encounter and be forced to investigate. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Place Between the Pillars from the author himself, and I am very grateful to Brandon Glossop, not only for allowing me the opportunity to delve into his specific work, but also for opening my eyes to issues that I would’ve otherwise been totally blind to.

I don’t always do this when reviewing a novel, but in this particular case, I felt it best to write notes as I read and transcribe them below. I feel that this way of writing a review more easily and accurately reflects my various emotions throughout my entire reading process, and so I felt that this sort of review would come across as more genuine. But first, I’d like to provide a few general thoughts on the novel as a whole, before delving into more detailed notes from my reading process…

I haven’t read a book like this since my Master’s. It wasn’t a pleasant or pleasurable reading experience whatsoever, but it was an important one. The novel packs a punch, it hits the reader hard and it deals with subject matter that is in no way light or frivolous, even when it is presented with sarcasm and dry humour. It is a book that cannot be taken or entered into lightly.

Rather than being enjoyable, this book is informative. There are different types of reading experiences, and entering into a study of The Place Between the Pillars is a didactic rather than a relaxing one. It is a story that begs you to think, that is designed to shock the reader and make them uncomfortable. It isn’t an easy journey by any standards, and yet it feels like a necessary one, particularly in this day and age.

The reason I could not give this book a full 5 stars is because part of me wishes it was narrated in the first person. I think that style would’ve made it a lot easier for me to feel emotionally connected to Hall and would’ve allowed me to better empathize with and pity him. This is not to say that I think pity is always a good sentiment, but in this case, I feel it would’ve helped me to understand Hall better and feel less contempt toward him. Although the dialogues are very well-written, I also craved first person narration at times because I wanted to know what Hall really sounded like, inside his own mind, and fully uncensored. I don’t see this as a real criticism, though…if anything, it is testament to just how complex Hall’s characterization is that I wanted to get to know him better…to get inside him.

What I Thought During My Reading of The Place Between the Pillars

(These notes were written sequentially, as I read the narrative, and so my thoughts and emotions do bounce around quite a bit. It is, however, the most honest representation of what I went through as I read John Hall’s story.)

– Very graphic! You feel the wounds as if you have them – I felt physically ill at times!

* “Hall rubbed his face and looked at Hartford. Hartford looked hung over, but he was still Hartford – still human. Hall felt like something less.”

– Alcohol problem = substance abuse issues slowly build up.

* “You don’t need it…make this your last one.” = Hall thinks this and then is back to drinking 3 days later/in the next chapter…this will be a frustrating, back and forth process.

– Finding it a tad difficult to get a grasp on location at the beginning. If you’re not up on army protocol, it’s a bit jolting (for example, I wish some of the acronyms were written out, like IRF, PT, LAVs). The narration is disjointed and jarring, which is a great way to portray Hall’s substance abuse = he is out of it and so are we.

– Glossop’s descriptions are so detailed that I myself started to feel exhausted, disoriented and sick along with Hall. But, at the same time, Hall is such a flawed character that I don’t know how to feel about him. Do I feel pity? Contempt? I think Glossop wants to elicit empathy more than anything.

– Tons of vulgarity (for example, Hall blacking out and sleeping with a 15 year old)…very mature subject matter!

*racism (against Middle Eastern people) *sexism (women as whores) *alcoholism (BUT not perceived as serious or taken seriously!)

* “‘When I die, I want to know what it feels like. I want to experience it. It only happens once, and who knows, it might feel good. If not, then fuck it, it wouldn’t last long.’” = very dark and disturbing!

– Part of me felt like the story should be in first person (see my comments above)…BUT then we would sympathize more with Hall…plus, he’s blacked out for most of it anyway!

– Alcohol to MDMA…the addictions are progressing…

– Some scenes, like Hall bloody and getting out of bed, are so vivid and clearly described that I felt physically ill and my body was tingly!

– Everything is described in such meticulous detail (for example, Hall’s dinner, reading and YouTube videos, the route of his run). We feel every breath with Hall, even when nothing much happens.

– It’s heartbreaking in a way because just as Hall is recovering and getting a hold on things, he falls into another addiction. But is his life too boring? Does it lack purpose and stimulus?

– Wright’s diatribe on Middle Eastern men… Alludes to the issue of othering the enemy and overgeneralizing about an entire race of people. It is the “Us vs. Them” mentality taken to the extreme…a fundamental danger of being in the army.

– I’m not sure if I hate Hall or feel sorry for him. But how much is he to blame for? It is a much larger problem that has made him into a “monster”, but it is so hard not to judge from the standpoint of someone who has never been through what he has!

– I hate Hall, but I feel guilty for hating him because there’s a bigger reason for why he is the way he is. It is a very challenging experience for the reader!

– Hall’s diatribe on Middle Eastern people is even worse than Wright’s. He is relentless and cruel and blind to the inhumanity of what he says. And yet, he is speaking from “personal experiences” and his opinions are flawed and fucked up because of what he saw and endured. As someone who is half Middle Eastern and marrying a Middle Eastern man, I was immediately offended, but also appalled that Hall was forced into this way of thinking… How can it be reversed or stopped? What do we have to do to prevent these repercussions?

– I do like Kitty as a character. She seems to represent all of us, our shock, fear, disgust and pity… “‘You sounded sadistic, John. You sounded evil.’”

– Hall recognizes that he is wrong BUT there is a part of him that has truly suffered. He has hatred because he was wronged. What are we to make of this? “‘Well, shit, Kitty, I spent two years being trained to kill people…’”

Chapter 26 is utterly brilliant! It is entirely dialogue and written so well. It represented such realistic conversation. Glossop is a master at creating dialogue!

– I am actually feeling anxiety for Kitty! I like her a lot!

– The last third of the novel mostly centers on Hall and Kitty doing A LOT of drugs, and it made me very anxious to see them fall apart. I want them to get their acts together. They were sober for 3 months, so can’t they do it again?

– Honestly, reading about Hall and Kitty getting high makes me feel physically ill and itchy. The writing style is simple and stripped down, but that causes the reader to feel it more acutely.

Touching Moments: 1) Hall playing with the boy in Afghanistan, throwing rocks with him and hoping he will survive. 2) Hall interacting with the Muslim woman in the pet store and letting her son pet his cat. These scenes seem to allude to a buried humanity in Hall and a chance at redemption. They are moments of heart amidst depravity.

* “‘I went there to sort out my PTSD, to sort out the cause of my drinking and coke habit, and they wouldn’t touch it….they told me I couldn’t talk about anything that happened overseas, because, get this, they were worried it might traumatize the other clients.’” = This quote directly sums up our society’s failings with regards to veterans.

– Will sharing the story of the death of his friend Brett Phillips was so graphic and made me feel physically ill. Glossop is a skilled writer! He knows how to force the reader to visualize things they don’t want to!

– A heart wrenching feeling at the end that Hall will never get his life together or kick his bad habits. A very bleak and cynical tone and feeling. Such a heartbreaking conclusion with no optimism!

“‘Well I just happen to have all the ingredients for the John Hall special…coke, oxy, and MDMA.’”

There is a difference between books and literature, that much is certain. Glossop clearly has the potential to write literature. And while these sorts of hard hitting, profound novels are harder for readers to pick up because they demand a responsible and focused reading, they are the most worthwhile stories to read and encounter. Glossop, in The Place Between the Pillars, writes a story that is not only worth reading, it is a necessary read and I would recommend it to any and every adult. We all have much to learn from it.

My Favourite Passage from the Novel…

(Glossop’s writing really shines here and his potential as a writer is clear!)

“In war, death is not a very important thing. When it happens, the importance falls on how to solve it – who takes what job, what to do with the body, and how equipment is to be redistributed. If you are affected by it, you are expected to solve any resulting issues that might jeopardize your effectiveness as a soldier or inform your chain of command so that they can do it for you. In war, death is a stoppage. But in the civilized world, nothing is more important than death. Wallpaper and carpets can scream of it for years.”

*A huge thank you to Brandon Glossop for providing me with a copy of The Place Between the Pillars. It was my pleasure to read and review it!*


Girl with a Green Heart