Nine Women, One Dress ~ #JNGReads

 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen is an absolutely darling short novel, and one that I wavered between giving 4 stars and 5 stars to. I eventually settled on a 4-star rating, for reasons that I will discuss below, but if I could’ve given it 4.5 stars on Goodreads, I definitely would have. It was just lovely!

Nine Women, One Dress chronicles several different love stories, from both the female and male characters’ perspectives. It is written in short bursts of text which resemble newspaper or magazine columns (complete with hilarious and fitting bylines), and this style was both unique and perfect in the sense that it allowed Rosen to tackle many different narratives without overwhelming the reader or taking away from the artful simplicity of her tales. The book almost felt like a collection of short stories in that it was easy to get through and a quick read, but what was wonderful about it was that the short narratives continued and several characters were revisited on multiple occasions, so that their stories were told both in snippets and anecdotally, but also completely. I liked the fact that I got to see many of my favourite characters from the novel frequently, but also that my reading experience wasn’t bogged down by details of them in their daily lives that were irrelevant or didn’t propel the main plot forward. I was looking for a light read after finishing a hulking John Irving novel, and Nine Women, One Dress was exactly what I craved. I powered through it, and honestly I could’ve read it even faster if I didn’t take as many breaks in between chapters, to sip on my tea or break off another piece of the chocolate bar I made a companion to my reading time on many nights while immersed in this story. It is just the quintessential coffee shop novel, the perfect read for an evening spent in the city, with a hot drink and a great view of skyscrapers and the gentle hustle and bustle. It is a novel that screams I ❤ New York…or any other great city (like, as an example, Toronto)!

Although it is a small book, weighing in at only 257 pages, I did get really into the lives of some of the characters in Nine Women, One Dress. My favourites would have to be Natalie, a Bloomindale’s shop assistant (Sidenote: I really need to visit Bloomingdale’s one day!) and movie star Jeremy/Stanley, as well as Private Investigator Andie whose job I found so interesting and whose issues with romantic boundaries I found endearing and realistic (haven’t we all obsessed over and pseudo-stalked a love interest in our lives?). I also had a particular soft spot for the romance between Arthur and Felicia, which brewed quietly over many years and finally reached its impressive romantic climax…it was totally adorable to watch this slightly older couple discover their long-buried feelings for one another! Many of the more secondary characters were also witty and a lot of fun to spend time with, particularly Sophie, the new graduate who uses Instagram fame to her advantage to land her dream job. Each of the characters were very down-to-earth and human, and I could easily pick out people in the crowded Starbucks I sat in while reading parts of this novel who I could imagine slipping into one of the storylines. Rosen really does seem to pick people out of an average crowd and make them into her subjects, and that makes it very easy to relate to and root for her characters.

Having said all that, I couldn’t give this novel a full 5-star rating for two main reasons. One is the chapters focusing on Medina Karim, whose self-proclaimed title is “Shireen’s Levelheaded Sister”. Medina and Shireen are young women living in Paris who struggle with their religion, Islam. Because they wear burqas as part of their religious custom, they wrestle with their desire to explore fashion and express themselves physically. While I thought it was a clever idea to include a commentary on religion in the novel, I did feel that Rosen tended to oversimplify these issues a little and focus too much on feminist stereotypes. I appreciate what she was trying to do and the statement she was trying to make, but I worried that maybe she wasn’t using the right medium to do so. The novel seemed altogether too short, and the chapters were not detailed enough, to enter into a proper discussion of religious belief and adherence and its limitations. I just felt that these chapters and this narrative was a touch out of place – if Rosen had spent more time truly delving into the matter and examining her characters more closely or giving them more space to speak and express themselves, I think her arguments would have been more successful.

I also, ironically, could not give the novel a full 5-star rating because I felt that it was too short. I know that is a bit paradoxical because I just finished saying how lovely it was in its quickness, but what I’m trying to say is that, when I compare Nine Women, One Dress to the 5-star novels I’ve read in my life, or just this year, it falls a bit shy of the mark. Only a touch shy, mind you, but it simply wasn’t the most outstanding or incredible rom-com I read this year. For that reason, I felt the need to distinguish it from clear 5-star favourites of mine like The Hating Game and Christmas at Tiffany’s – but, as I said, I would give it 4.5 stars if I could!

All in all, I would highly recommend Nine Women, One Dress as the perfect holiday read (whether that holiday is in the summer, on a beach, or in the winter, by a warm fire, it still works)! It is airy, fun and very cute, and it was a truly enjoyable experience to read it! Plus, isn’t that cover just gorgeous?!

*Final Note: I didn’t take the time to keep track of the women interacting with the little black Max Hammer dress mentioned in the book’s title, so I have no idea if there really were nine women…having said that, I’m sure that there are and a less lazy reader would probably be able to say for sure! Haha!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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

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

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

What underrated book would you recommend?

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

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

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

Acclaimed Theatre

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

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

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

Poetry from the Distant Past

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

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

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

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

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

Heartbreaking Romance

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

Midnight Mystery

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

Haunting Historical Fiction

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

Crazy Classic

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

And finally…

Oh Canada!

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

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

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Ends With Us ~ #JNGReads

This has been a year of me reading books that I don’t feel qualified to review.

It started when I read Thirteen Reason Why earlier this year. Although I have suffered from anxiety since my early high school days, I have never felt such all-encompassing depression that I have contemplated suicide. I could not relate to Hannah’s emotional or mental state while reading the novel, and while that did not affect my overall enjoyment of it whatsoever (I do not feel it is necessary to identify with a character in order to connect with them or enjoy reading their story), it did make me feel like I had no place reviewing the novel or giving it a numeric rating. The novel wasn’t my favourite for many reasons, mainly because of how it was written, but I didn’t feel like I could actually critique it because of how important the subject matter was and how imperative I believe it is that everyone, particularly teenagers, read the story.

How do you review something that you think everyone needs to read, even if you didn’t love it and for reasons far more significant than enjoyment?

I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question, and I certainly didn’t have it when I read the novel It Happens All The Time just a short while ago. That was another novel that dealt with such important subject matter as rape and consent, and I felt totally inadequate reviewing it, considering that I have been lucky enough to never find myself in the positions of the main characters. Again, I felt that the subject matter was so poignant and timely that every reader should pick up the novel, but I didn’t absolutely love how the story was articulated or how the characters’ narrations were portrayed.

Now, here I am again, trying to review a novel that just shouldn’t be reviewed. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is so much more than a romance, and I’m actually thinking that it was a mistake to choose this as my first experience of Hoover’s writing. As far as I know, Hoover is an established and much loved romance writer, but It Ends With Us is apparently a departure from her usual style and genre. In this novel, Hoover decides to investigate the more complicated, complex and tragic side of a relationship, and the romance between the two main characters takes almost a backseat to their struggles.

I should warn you all that SPOILERS are ahead. If you don’t want to have any idea of what happens in It Ends With Us before picking it up, I urge you to stop reading this review here.

It is nearly impossible to talk properly about It Ends With Us without mentioning that it focuses on domestic abuse. Not only is domestic abuse a huge part of the upbringing of the main character and narrator, Lily Bloom, it also becomes a component of her own marriage to Ryle Kincaid. This is where the novel becomes both heartbreaking and profound – Hoover chooses to not just write an average, mundane, cookie-cutter romance; she chooses instead to focus on the nitty gritty of an abusive relationship, and investigate the emotions that a woman being physically and mentally abused would endure. There are a lot of romance novels out there, but very few that do something interesting, that actually talk about important topics, and Hoover totally turns the romance genre on its head and does a complete 180 with it.

I wholeheartedly respect that and I found her treatment of domestic abuse fascinating and enlightening. I love and appreciate novels with grey area – my favourite characters are the ones who are not simply black or white, good or bad, perfect or irrevocably flawed.

“‘There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.’” ~ Ryle

There was not a moment in the novel that I thought that Lily should leave Ryle, just as there was not a moment when I thought she should not leave him – I had no idea what Lily should do because although I tried my hardest to put myself in her position, I simply could not. My experience and identity as a reader is limited in that way, and so I could sympathize with Lily’s circumstances and wish that she would find happiness, but I could not decide for her. That is the most hard-hitting aspect of It Ends With Us; Hoover expertly and subtly comments on the notion that people are far too easily inclined to judge others, to pronounce opinions on other people’s situations without having any real idea of what it is like to properly be in them. There are many people out there who would say of a woman in Lily’s position, Why doesn’t she just leave him? There are many people who would blame Lily for not walking away earlier, for not standing up for herself. But how many of those people have lived through a relationship like Lily and Ryle’s? How many of them have had to rip themselves away from the person they love, even if they know it is technically the right and most healthy thing to do? Hoover teaches us all, her readers, her audience, to critique less and support more, to be there for others without trying to control them, to practice compassion rather than judgment. I respect so much that Hoover has chosen to use her popularity as a romance writer to draw attention to an issue that is far too often overlooked and misunderstood by society at large.

Having said that, the reason why I find it so hard to traditionally review It Ends With Us is because there is one aspect of the story that bothered me a little bit (only enough to lower my necessary Goodreads numeric rating by 1-star, mind you). This particular detail is the aspects of the novel pertaining to Lily’s somewhat romantic relationship with Atlas, her first love. While I definitely do NOT think Ryle’s jealousy was justified or was an excuse for his treatment of Lily, I did feel that Lily’s interactions with Atlas and her reminiscing on her teenage relationship with him, both before she began dating Ryle and during her marriage, took away from the poignancy of her story with Ryle. Hoover’s decision to oscillate between scenes in which Ryle and Lily develop their relationship (both positively and negatively) and scenes of Lily thinking about Atlas and being confused by her lingering emotions for him frustrated me on many levels. I felt that the storyline with Atlas took away from the gravity of Lily’s situation with Ryle in that it drew attention away from the severity of what she was going through. It almost trivialized how difficult her life became after Ryle’s most horrible incident of domestic abuse because Lily’s admission that she wished she could easily feel something for Atlas without so much stress and trauma and confusion surrounding her brought the story back into a traditionally romantic domain that I wished it would severe all ties with. It just overall toyed with my emotions in that I was feeling hurt and scared for Lily but then hopeful that her and Atlas would “get together” in the traditional sense – it didn’t feel right to have these thoughts, which is thankfully something that Lily recognizes as well, but I found myself wishing that Atlas wasn’t even part of the equation. I ironically struggled more with the romantic moments of It Ends With Us than with the powerful moments because I grew to accept that it was not a generic romance novel and so it frustrated me to be offered tokens of romance novel stereotypes amidst such deep and meaningful subject matter. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I feel that if It Ends With Us began and ended only with investigating Lily’s relationship with Ryle, it would’ve felt slightly less disjointed and would’ve made me feel more consistently emotional and heartbroken.

I’ll repeat, though, that It Ends With Us is still extremely poignant and important in that it is NOT just a romance novel. It is so much more and it is a book that I would undoubtedly recommend to women, and encourage them to pass on to their mothers, their daughters, and their friends.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*One more note… I went for a run partway through reading It Ends With Us, and a song came on my iPod that made me think of Lily. It was the song “Night So Long” by the band Haim from their newest album Something To Tell You – the deep and powerful instrumentals and the haunting harmonies made me picture Lily taking a walk in the dark, contemplating her emotions and her future. The lyrics also seemed to resonate with her experiences in the novel, so I thought I would share a few here…

“In loneliness, my only friend

In loneliness, my only fear

The nights end

Then I say goodbye to love once more

No shadow darkening the door

Until your memory is gone

The night, slow, long…”

~ “Night So Long”, Haim

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Rosie Project – #JNGReads

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a novel that I enjoyed, but wasn’t enthusiastic about.

There’s no denying that The Rosie Project is well-written and incredibly unique.  It details the life of Professor Don Tillman, a geneticist whose rigid routine is thrown off course when he meets Rosie, a woman looking for her biological father.  Don is undeniably a fascinating narrator: his voice is very distinct in that he narrates without emotion and delivers factual details about events devoid of any embellishment or flowery language.  He is the same in his interactions with other characters, and he is known for speaking what comes to his mind, without censorship.  Reading The Rosie Project was an interesting experience for me because I have never read a novel in such a clipped, concise style, and it was very cool to read about what went on in Don’s highly scientific mind.  He has a very different way of looking at the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching his structured life get turned on its head by a character as free and liberal as Rosie.  The dialogues between Don and Rosie were entertaining in that Rosie’s sarcasm and playful mocking of Don easily comes through to the reader, but is mostly missed by Don.  I enjoyed working through their conversations to determine when Rosie is poking fun at Don, but I also felt reassured that Rosie had genuine affection for Don and good intentions.  For that reason, it is fun to watch Don become more carefree and spontaneous through Rosie’s prodding and example.

Having said that, while I got through the novel quickly, I never truly felt inspired by it or connected to any of the characters.  The narrative of the novel flows very easily (which is surprising considering how scientific it is) and it is a quick read at only just over 300-pages, but I almost felt as though nothing substantial happened in the story at all.  It is true that Don’s personality gets overhauled in many ways, and he begins to grapple with and alter his way of viewing the world, but because Don’s narration is so unemotional, it is hard to grasp onto any internal change or reflection.  I also am not a fan of the show The Big Bang Theory, or anything like it, and I went into The Rosie Project knowing that Don has been compared to Sheldon Cooper by many readers; this automatically created a disconnect between me and Don, and I did see many similarities between his manner of speaking and Sheldon’s (from the few Big Bang Theory episodes I’ve managed to sit through).  Again, credit must be given where it is due because Simsion really does create a narrator unlike any I have ever encountered, but Don’s narrative style and character just wasn’t for me.  I’m not even really a fan of Jane Austen’s writing style (I know, it’s awful!) because I find it too straightforward and not emotive enough, so I had a feeling from 20 pages into The Rosie Project that I was never going to fully get into Don’s narration.

Despite all of this, I will repeat that I enjoyed The Rosie Project well enough.  I wasn’t dreading reading it by any means, and once I got to around the 200 page mark, I was genuinely interested in how Don and Rosie’s relationship would progress and whether or not they would solve the mystery of Rosie’s biological father’s identity.  I just felt sometimes like I wanted to smack Don upside the head and scream at him that he was in love with Rosie; his obliviousness occasionally grated on my nerves in that sense.  I would recommend this novel, though, as a quick and simple read that is unique and brings something new to literature as a whole.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – #JNGReads

I’ve wanted to read Jenny Han’s young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the moment I saw the adorable front cover. And yesterday, I finally read it…all in one day.

I should be clear, that rarely happens for me. I’m really not the type of reader to finish a book all in one day – work and life obligations usually get in the way, and ever since graduating from my Master’s, I haven’t had the will power or desire to blast through a story. I’ve preferred to take novels more slowly and not pressure myself to get through them so quickly or within a strict timeline.

But, every now and then, a book is so easy and effortless to read that it begs to be finished all in one day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that book – it is written in such a fluid and engrossing style that I couldn’t put it down, that I sped through the beautiful pages (truly, the font is just gorgeous) faster than I have in a very long time. Han’s writing is elegant and simple, but her narrator, Lara Jean Song Covey, is an endearing character whose voice it is easy to get swept up in. The plot flows smoothly, with moments of excitement and uncertainty planted naturally within the 355 pages, and the dialogue is witty and clever in so many places. Lara Jean’s conversations with her friend Chris, her fake boyfriend Peter, and best friend and former crush Josh, as well as her two sisters Margot and Kitty, are realistic and detailed, from chats about zits and Christmas cookies and puppies, to conversations about more serious topics like sex and death and betrayal. Every aspect of the novel is human and real, and I was engrossed in Lara Jean’s life from the first page, and especially impressed by how details of her past were interwoven seamlessly amongst the present day narration.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential young adult romance – and I know just how successful it is at nailing this genre because I read a novel that failed just this year. As I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t help but compare it to Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss, which I honestly did not like at all. That is a VERY unpopular opinion and I don’t want to start ranting about it all over again because it will ruin the warm and fuzzy feeling that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me, but suffice it to say that I found all of the characters in Anna and the French Kiss to be seriously bratty and annoying, particularly the narrator Anna. Placing Anna in contrast to Lara Jean was very enlightening because it emphasized to me how successful Han was in creating a genuine and likeable narrator – Lara Jean is noticeably flawed, and she is still growing and learning in many ways, but she is also trying her best to be a kind, good person. She isn’t entitled, she doesn’t take life or love for granted, and she doesn’t take herself or her teenage struggles too seriously. Yes, she is mortified when the love letters she writes to her past crushes are accidentally mailed out and her feelings are revealed to them, but she is logical enough to not fall apart, to continue her relationships, to strongly stand before these guys and try to navigate the issue without fearing of her emotions or theirs. Lara Jean is really quite mature, and I think it is easy for the reader to feel inclined to cheer her on!

I really liked Lara Jean very much. I’ve read some reviews where readers have said that they disliked her because she spends much of the novel lusting after her sister’s boyfriend, but I have to severely disagree on that. Lara Jean very quickly realizes that her feelings for Josh are buried in the past, and she does everything in her power to avoid hurting her sister. She does not try to steal Josh from her, she does her best to think of him only as a friend, and I think ultimately she succeeds. Teenage love is complicated and not so easy to navigate, but I think Lara Jean is very mature about her complex relationship with Josh and I believe she acts in ways that are respectful to her sister. I was impressed with how sophisticatedly Lara Jean handled this complicated situation, and I found little to criticize her for in this instance.

I will say, though, that the highlight of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for me, was not the romance. Lara Jean’s crushes and her pseudo-relationship with Peter are really sweet and cute, but it would’ve ultimately bored me if they were the only, or even the central, focus of the novel. Instead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before focuses heavily on the Covey family, on the dynamic between siblings Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty and their father. It is absolutely fascinating to see these characters interact, and I was blown away by how realistically Han describes the family life in this story. Margot was an impressive character, a truly inspiring older sister figure, and I found her relationship with Lara Jean, especially in the end when they momentarily fight and must make their way back to each other, to be incredibly heartwarming. The stand out character, however, was Kitty, in my opinion. This 9 year old girl is absolutely hilarious and such a firecracker! Her voice was so distinct, but not too juvenile, and I was so impressed by her one liners. I found myself laughing out loud at so many points because of the adorable and surprisingly adult things Kitty said, and her maturity in interacting with her sisters and father was uniquely portrayed. I have never encountered a child character like her in literature and I would be so interested to read a novel all about her and have a chance to see her grow older. She was undeniably my favourite part of the whole story (and I am really glad she got her puppy in the end – it was well deserved)!

All in all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was an impressive young adult novel. So many young adult novels fail to hit hard, to take their readers seriously and present them with complex and intricate characters whose personalities need to be unraveled and analyzed. Han doesn’t underestimate or belittle her young adult readers, and I appreciate the scope of her novel, how she chose not to just present a simple and cute love story but instead decided to also explore the inner workings of a strong and inspiring family. I may not rush out to buy the second and third novels in this series (mainly because I have many books on my To Read List at the moment), but I will definitely pick them up eventually because I would be happy to visit Lara Jean’s world again. Her and her sisters were characters unlike any I have encountered in recent years, and I look forward to getting to spend time with them again soon.

I highly recommend this one, to young adult readers and to older readers as well – definitely check it out before the movie adaptation, which is currently in the works, comes out!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Artists Trilogy – #JNGReads

In this review, I will be discussing the three main books in the Artists Trilogy by Karina Halle.

1) Sins and Needles ~ ❥❥❥❥

2) Shooting Scars ~ ❥❥❥❥

3) Bold Tricks ~ ❥❥❥❥❥

Let me start by saying that this romance series is unlike any set of romance novels I’ve ever read. Oh, it is sexy and hot and steamy in so many places, but it is also intensely plot-driven with an intricate story that is built up painstakingly throughout the three books. I’ve said this before, but I always hate it when a literary or cinematographic series is a series simply for the sake of it; when an idea or storyline is bled and drawn out in a way that is self-indulgent and that adds nothing new or exciting to the audiences’ experience or understanding. The Artists Trilogy is not that sort of series, though – each and every novel is necessary because the plot is moved forward and the characters are pushed to become different, to change and re-evaluate themselves as they are faced with fresh obstacles.

Halle can write a gripping, intense and suspenseful story, that is for sure. Without giving too much away, the three novels in the Artists Trilogy not only feature heart-stopping and breathtaking romantic scenes, they also feature moments of deception, terror and turmoil. The three main characters, Ellie Watt, Camden McQueen and Javier Bernal, are so bound up in illegal activity, conning, grifting and drug cartels that they are never truly safe, that they are constantly on the run, and the reader is taken on that journey in a way that is exhilarating and never exhausting. Halle’s pacing is excellent and she really knows when to use cliffhangers and when to make big reveals in ways that are subtle and realistic. Her story is exciting but never too improbable or unbelievable and the reader is easily swept up for the ride.

And that is what I loved best about this series: that Halle creates an actual story, a set of issues and challenging circumstances that call her characters to actually be human. All too often in romance novels, nothing much really happens – the love interests find each other and fall in love, and then into bed, and then they spend the rest of their time sleeping together, getting married and living happily ever after. They don’t do much of anything other than be in love, and so they become stereotypes, clichés that eventually grate on the readers’ nerves. But none of that happens in the Artists Trilogy. Because Ellie, Camden and Javier are thrust into desperate circumstances, they are forced to reveal and grapple with their pasts and come to terms with and sort out their many flaws. They do things, they are propelled forward by intense action, and they are constantly forced to make decisions and interrogate who they truly are. This is the most successful aspect of the trilogy because the characters feel real, tangible, complicated and complex.

The shining star of the Artists Trilogy is main character, Ellie Watt. She is the badass female character we all needed in our lives. She is a formidable narrator with a distinct tone and voice (that often includes adult language…and I must shamefully admit that I’m a fan of swearing myself, to punctuate tricky situations and emphasize emotion!). Ellie is the driving force of the novels, and I actually enjoyed the second novel in the trilogy the least, mainly because Camden narrates half of it. Ellie’s voice and internal monologue is too intriguing to be replaced, and the third and final novel is full of so much of her reflection that I easily sped through it in only one day. Ellie is also so much more than just a narrator – she is a troubled, damaged character with a dark past and sad childhood, and she is so real in that she fucks up (A LOT!), is often hypocritical and misguided, and is on a journey of self-discovery that is moving and difficult. Ellie is also no nonsense, and she never shies away from doing the tough things – she’s not a woman who sits back, even in moments of grave danger, and she easily goes toe-to-toe with the most sadistic and terrifying men. The shy, innocent, virginal female lead is NOWHERE to be found in the Artists Trilogy and that is (sadly, since it should be an established literary fact by now) groundbreaking.

Having said all of this, the Artist Trilogy is also very romantic in parts, with scenes that will make even the most collected reader hot and bothered, and it is well-written with witty points of dialogue. A few of my favourite quotes are below…

Sins and Needles

“‘Fuck that, give me the corn nuts.’ … Who the hell eats a banana when they’re on the run?”

Shooting Scars

“That angel had died on broken wings and with a broken heart.”

“Tattoos were self-expression in its rawest and most permanent form.” = And, sidenote, this series made me REALLY want a tattoo, sooo badly! Too bad I’m a chicken!

Bold Tricks

“Boom. There went my heart.”

“That was the thing about this that they don’t show you in the movies – everyone has to pee at some point, no matter how inconvenient the circumstances.” = Halle story is realistic and her characters are human.

“‘I love you,’ he whispered in my ear. ‘Every minute that goes by, you will my heart.’” ~ Camden to Ellie

All in all, I highly recommend this series to romance lovers who are sick of the same old tropes and archetypes and who crave some adventure and hard-hitting excitement amid their romance plotlines. The Artists Trilogy is unique and fast-paced, and I can see it making a great film adaptation that would appeal to both men and women equally, with its combination of romance and suspense.

Also, I’ve never done this before, but amidst my reading, I happened to go for a run and three songs came on my iPod that I feel would accurately represent the three main characters and their intricate personalities and histories. I’ve listed them below. While I would not call this a love triangle by any means, as there are some clearly serious issues with one party, I think Halle subverts and plays with the love triangle trope so expertly and in a way that many modern readers will appreciate.

Happy reading and listening!

~ Ellie ~

“Ghost” by Ella Henderson

“And at most, I’m sleeping all these demons away…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA8AfQaUnXM

~ Javier ~

“Surrender” by Billy Talent

“This flower don’t belong to me.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPabKxzcy6o

~ Camden ~

“Break Even” by The Script

“While I’m wide awake, she has no trouble sleeping…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzCLLHscMOw

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Grisha Trilogy – #JNGReads

My foray into the genre of young adult/new adult fantasy continues with my completion of The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo…

This trilogy comprises the novels Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, all of which follow the story of Alina Starkov, a powerful Grisha (a sort of magician) who learns through a traumatic near-accident that she possesses the ability to summon light. Henceforth referred to as The Sun Summoner, Alina is given Saint-like status among the citizens of her home of Ravka, and she is pursued endlessly by characters like The Darkling, Nikolai “Sturmhond” Lantsov and a figure known as the Apparat, all of whom wish to control and make use of her unique powers. She is aided in her quest to bring peace to Ravka, at any cost, by her childhood best friend Mal, and by new friends she meets along her travels, such as Genya (a fellow Grisha with remarkable talents for tailoring and altering physical appearance, and by far one of the most fascinating characters in the series), Baghra, Tamar and Tolya. It’s pretty easy to get a detailed synopsis of all three of these novels online, so I won’t go into any more detail than that, but suffice it to say that Alina’s life goes from ordinary to dramatic and dangerous in the span of a few short chapters.

I don’t normally read all of the books in a series at once (in fact, I think that before this year, I hadn’t read an entire series from start to finish since reading the Twilight series when I was in grade 11), but it is something I’ve been doing a lot lately. The Grisha Trilogy came onto my radar a few months ago when I was buried deep in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas – I was looking for something to fill the void that I knew would inevitably be left by Feyre and Rhysand, and I noticed rave reviews on Goodreads of both Maas’ other series, Throne of Glass, as well as of Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. Thinking it was a good idea to get some distance from Maas’ writing style and some variation in what I was reading, I put the Grisha Trilogy on my immediate To-Read list. In a wonderful twist of Fate, my fiancé went out a few days later to Chapters and bought me 9 different books (he’s amazing, I know!), including the entire Grisha Trilogy. Once I finished a few novels that I had been waiting to read for awhile, and put some distance between myself and the ACOTAR series, I was reading to dive right into Bardugo’s world.

And, it is quite a remarkable world! From the first pages of the book, when the reader is faced with an impressive and imposing map, it becomes obvious that the tale will literally span an entire world that Bardugo has painstakingly created. Based on Russian culture, this world encompasses multiple kingdoms and involves many cultural and political structures that are both recognizable to readers and yet extremely unique and well-executed. Most notably, Alina finds herself a reluctant Saint figure, and she is constantly overwhelmed by the religious fanatics that follow and worship her. Class struggles are also prominently explored, particularly because Alina is an orphan and was raised in the lower class as a member of the First Army, prior to discovering her Grisha powers and achieving elite status. There is a noticeable divide between the soldiers of the First Army, who are human, and the Grisha of the Second Army who practice the Small Science, and prejudice is a theme that Bardugo explores subtly but at length. Bardugo’s world is intricate, fleshed out and realistic, and there is no doubt that she spent a great deal of time not only creating human culture but also envisioning unique terrains and environments (her description of the Shadow Fold alone, and its various creatures such as the volcra, is detailed and thorough).

Bardugo’s characters are undoubtedly the most engaging part of the series, though, and it is because of the characters that I chose to wait to write a review of the entire series, rather than writing individual reviews of the books within it. The main reason for this is that I was not a huge fan of any of the characters (except for The Darkling – more on this later) after reading the first book. I think Sarah J. Maas’ ACOTAR series is largely to blame for this because I found myself constantly comparing Alina to Maas’ main character, Feyre Archeron. Probably it wasn’t the best idea to read the Grisha Trilogy so soon after finishing the ACOTAR series, and I must admit that, if it weren’t for the fact that I had all three novels of the Grisha Trilogy sitting in my house, I may not have actually moved onto the second novel so quickly after the first one. I definitely would have finished the series at some point, but the first novel did not make me that eager to dive into the second right away, which is totally different from my experience of Maas’ trilogy, where I actually rushed out to buy the next two books in the series because I was so shaken by the first. As I said, this difference is mainly due to the striking differences between the two main characters of each of these series – where Feyre is strong-willed, vocal and fierce, I found Alina to be quiet, meek and far too self-conscious. For most of the first novel, Alina doubts her powers and Grisha status, and when she does finally begin to accept that there hasn’t been a mistake (how could there be, since the power did in fact come from her body?), she continuously laments the fact that Grisha are normally born naturally beautiful and she is just plain and unspectacular (in her own eyes, at least). It became tedious to constantly read about Alina’s self-esteem issues, especially because I was hoping to see her develop some internal strength and purpose from her Grisha status – this was her chance to become extraordinary for her talents and abilities and amass confidence from what she has to offer, rather than how she looks. Unfortunately, I found that Alina made it to the end of the novel without ever truly growing or achieving any sort of force or strength of character. Even worse than that, she continued to pine over her childhood friend and crush, Mal Oretsev, who I found to be boring, stereotypical and one-dimensional. He didn’t grow or develop much as a character, either, during the first novel, and I found this very frustrating. (I should say that his character grew on me by the conclusion of the final novel, but I still only really felt as connected to him as I would to any plot device, designed to propel the main characters forward and challenge and interrogate them.)

Like I said, if it wasn’t for the fact that the second novel was sitting on my bookshelf and staring me in the face, it would’ve taken me a lot longer to pick it up after finishing the first novel. I was intrigued by the world and by one character in particular, but I was struggling to like Alina or to feel empathy for her. That all changed with the second novel however, and I think I’m in the minority when I say that the second novel was so much better than the first one for me! Finally, FINALLY, Alina starts to get a sense of direction and purpose, and she has a clear vision for what she hopes to accomplish in Ravka. More importantly, she decides to go after that vision and future, and she becomes defiant in the face of obstacles, and is noticeably more strong-willed. Although she has her internal doubts and fears, as a reader we are called to sympathize with her difficult position of power, and Alina seems much more developed and intricate than she did in the first novel. She also begins to realize that her power is a huge responsibility, and this begins to affect her relationship with Mal in complex ways that are surprising and welcomed. Alina becomes much more of a force to be reckoned with in the second novel, and this continues into the third when she truly comes into her own, begins to hone her powers and becomes a real adversary for The Darkling, who has otherwise commanded and overpowered her at every measure.

Seeing Alina grow into a strong female character is very gratifying, and it also opens her up to have some very interesting interactions with male characters that I found altogether MUCH more complex than Mal. These two male characters, and the way they challenge Alina, were the highlight of the series for me. The first of these characters is Nikolai “Sturmhond” Lantsov, a prince turned pirate (or, in his words, “privateer”) who seeks to take over the throne of Ravka from his ailing father. Nikolai is truly unlike any character I’ve encountered in a long time – he is cocky, over-the-top and witty, and he reminded me in many ways of Henry Higgins with his sharp tongue and unruffled demeanour. He challenges Alina to help him bring peace to Ravka, and their fast repartee is one of the elements of the second and third novels that really stuck out to me. Nikolai is not weak or soft-spoken, and so he forces Alina to use language as a weapon. He teaches her so much about how to be a ruler and what her obligations are, and their relationship is heated and sensual in ways that shock and test Alina.

Despite Nikolai’s strong presence, there is no character in the Grisha Trilogy quite like The Darkling, a “man” who is at once ultimate foe and forever friend. His literally physical as well as emotional connection to Alina is the crux of the entire series: will Alina submit to her powers and join forces with the Grisha whose powers complete hers, or will she choose peace over tyranny? The Darkling is such a complex character in that he is intoxicating but also dangerous. Everything about him draws Alina, and the reader, in and yet there is a latent insanity and desperation to him that is terrifying. The strongest scenes of the entire series, in my opinion, are those when The Darkling and Alina visit each other through their complicated bond – their conversations and interactions in these scenes are fiery and flirtatious, but there is also so much that is alluded to and so many layers of personality that they each peel off of each other. Alina’s powers make her thirsty and hungry for control and dominance, and it is The Darkling who perhaps sees her most clearly, for who she truly is, and encourages her to embrace the fact that she is unlike any other Grisha in history. Although he is a villain in many senses, he is also the only character to let Alina be free in the sense of allowing her to fully use and exercise her powers. This fact is paradoxical because in trying to set Alina free in this way, The Darkling must capture her – to fully give into her powers and abilities, Alina must submit to The Darkling’s master plan for Ravka, which is much less peaceful and inclusive than she would hope. The series becomes all the more complicated as Alina struggles with her inherent desire to be with The Darkling and her simultaneous fear of him, and it is very engrossing to watch this struggle play out as Alina herself becomes more self-assured.

Overall, I would highly recommend this series, as it became much better as it progressed. I always appreciate when a series is not just a series for the sake of it, when the second and third installments are meaningful and add something to the fictional world that would otherwise be lacking. This is definitely the case for the Grisha Trilogy, and while it is not my favourite trilogy that I’ve read this year, it is still certainly a fun ride! If fantasy novels are meant to be an escape, then this is the quintessential fantasy series, and the ending of the final novel was satisfying and utterly rewarding!

A few of my favourite quotes from the novels…

“The thought filled me with grief, grief for the dreams we’d shared, for the love I’d felt, for the hopeful girl I would never be again. That grief flooded through me, dissolving a knot that I hadn’t known was there….I’m sorry I left you so long in the dark. I’m sorry, but I’m ready now.

“‘I love you, Alina, even the part of you that loved him.’”

~ Shadow and Bone

“‘I’m not going to apologize for being ambitious. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m the best man for the job.’”

“‘I’m not a symbol…And I’m tired of being used as a pawn.’”

Stop it…You’re not some scared little girl anymore, shaking in her army-issue boots. You’re a Grisha, the Sun Summoner.

“‘I have loved you all my life, Mal…There is no end to our story.’”

~ Siege and Storm

“‘For all my talk of vows and honor, what I really want is to put you up against that wall and kiss you until you forget you ever knew another man’s name. So tell me to go, Alina. Because I can’t give you a title or an army or any of the things you need.’”

“‘He watches her the way Harshaw watches fire. Like he’ll never have enough of her. Like he’s trying to capture what he can before she’s gone.’”

“‘You are all I’ve ever wanted…You are the whole of my heart.’”

~ Ruin and Rising

  • Shadow and Bone ~ ❥❥❥❥
  • Siege and Storm ~ ❥❥❥❥❥
  • Ruin and Rising ~ ❥❥❥❥❥
  • The Grisha Trilogy (overall) ~ ❥❥❥❥.5

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Happens All the Time ~ #JNGReads

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is a book that I don’t feel comfortable reviewing, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain…

Hatvany’s novel deals with such important topics as rape and mental health, and so it is very difficult to write a review of a story that tackles such deep and significant issues. In a similar vein to how I felt uncomfortable reviewing Thirteen Reasons Why, I feel that It Happens All the Time is the sort of novel that should not be reviewed or rigorously critiqued and should instead be read by all adults. It would be impossible for me to say which demographic I recommend it to, because I recommend it to all readers, young and old, male and female. It would be difficult to pull apart any elements of the novel, to break apart the traits and actions of the characters, because so much of the novel’s strength and poignancy comes from the fact that the characters are flawed (some much more than others), and that there are two sides to and different opinions about every story. It Happens All the Time is not the kind of novel that, in my opinion, can be reviewed for its plot devices or structure or style because everything pales in comparison to the subject matter it investigates and the insights it offers. It is a novel that should be on every reader’s bookshelf and that parents should be encouraging their children to read, once they reach an appropriate age. It is a story that needs to be told, and then discussed at length.

So, for those reasons, I find it hard to write a traditional review of Hatvany’s novel or give it a concrete rating. The novel was a very quick read for me, and I did struggle with connecting to certain characters, particularly Tyler, because I felt that the synopsis gave away some crucial details that ultimately clouded my opinions on the characters from page one. Having said that, I was moved by the story, I was shaken and rattled by it, especially in the most tragic chapters, and I was called to question my own beliefs and assumptions. That is the mark of a great novel, most certainly, and yet I can’t quantify this experience by giving it a number of stars (although I have, for the sake of the Goodreads system). As I said, this is a novel that must be read, and so it transcends the concepts of enjoyment and pleasure and achieves status as a novel that educates and inspires and makes readers better.

Furthermore, there are so many readers who could write better “reviews” of this novel than me, and many of them have. I was touched by so many of the comments I read on Goodreads about this novel, and they certainly opened my eyes to just how prevalent and relevant the subject matter of Hatvany’s story is. One review in particular really stuck with me though and my thoughts were drawn back to it in each moment I spent reading It Happens All the Time. This review was written by a Goodreads friend of mine, Chelsea Humphrey, and it was her honest, heartfelt and touching words that really pushed and persuaded me to pick up Hatvany’s novel as soon as I could. Chelsea’s review is, in every way, more thought-provoking than mine could ever be, and I believe that even those who haven’t read It Happens All the Time will take something away from her review (follow the link above or at the end of this post to visit Chelsea’s blog and read it). I suggest you all read her review, whether you intend to pick up the novel or not, because it is intensely meaningful and eye-opening!

On that note, I must say that my biggest source of hesitancy in writing a review for It Happens All the Time comes from the fact that I have never been in Amber’s position, I have never experienced the turmoil and pain she goes through. This is not to say that a reader must have personally experienced every aspect of a story in order to understand or enjoy it, but I do feel that in the case of topics such as rape, it is extremely difficult to fathom the circumstances and emotions surrounding them without having experienced them firsthand. I did absolutely feel empathy for Amber and tried my hardest to put myself in her shoes, but I understood my limitations, I accepted the fact that I will never ever be able to comprehend her anxieties and fears and depression without having lived them myself. I don’t feel comfortable at all pronouncing judgment on her actions or choices, because I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. I don’t feel that there’s any room for judgment in this novel whatsoever, for that reason, and I would find it impossible to contradict or criticize how the characters were portrayed because I have never been in their places. What I think is most thought-provoking and powerful about Hatvany’s description of both a rape survivor and her perpetrator is that each and every character is so human, so flawed and so realistic. There is no clear cut, neatly wrapped right or wrong, and every character exists in that gray area that we so often struggle with in real-life.

I don’t know if any of what I’ve said even makes sense, but I will try to sum up my jumbled thoughts as best I can. Read It Happens All the Time! Especially if you are someone who has never experienced the topics it investigates… Read It Happens All the Time! Have your parents read it, pass it along to your brothers and boyfriends, and encourage your children, both male and female, to read it when they reach an appropriate age. Give a copy to your best female friends, and to your best guy friends too, and start a conversation. Talk about what happens to Amber, and what happens to Tyler too, and even if your opinions vary or you can’t see eye to eye, discuss every nuance and detail and start the conversation. This is where Hatvany’s story will prove most significant: in the conversations between readers and their friends and family members. If each of us passes along our copy and challenges the person we’ve given it to to investigate their own assumptions and ideals, then we will be one step closer to making our world a safer place.

I highly recommend this one, to absolutely everyone!

Chelsea Humphrey’s review of It Happens All the Time, from her blog The Suspense Is Thrilling Me:

https://thesuspenseisthrillingme.com/2017/03/28/review-it-happens-all-the-time/

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Chat Love – #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

“‘You look good with my clothes on.’” ~ Jackson

(I just love how flirtatious that line is, so I had to quote it!  It reminded me so much of the scene in Roman Holiday when Gregory Peck tells Audrey Hepburn that she should always wear his pajamas, which is one of my favourite moments in romantic movie history.)

Chat Love by Justine Faeth is an adorable, light rom-com that I would highly recommend to hopeless romantics who are look for a summer read to take with them to the beach or on a vacation.  It is the sort of novel filled with delightful comedy, laugh out loud moments, and a wonderfully endearing main character, and it is the ideal book to have on your e-reader and whip out on a crowded subway or a long flight.

Chat Love follows protagonist Lucia Pia Fabbo as she navigates the world of online dating and struggles to find love at twenty-eight years old.  Lucia quickly learns that love isn’t always where one would expect to find it, and she is forced to open her mind and heart to new romantic possibilities and to an ideal partner that was staring her in the face all along.  Chat Love was reminiscent, for me, of those pleasant Hallmark movies you watch on a Saturday evening, with a hot tea or brimming glass of wine in hand, and I do actually think that Faeth’s writing style is very suited to film or television in that she writes scenes in a detailed style that makes them easy to visualize.  I would say that Lucia is just itching to come to life on the screen, and her life in New York with her three best friends and several male acquaintances is one that would easily make a cute sitcom or light romantic drama.

Other than just being an enjoyable and quick read, Chat Love also resonated with me on a few personal levels, and this made the story all the more realistic and relatable.  I never myself went online to find love, but I know several people personally who have tried out the online dating scene, to mixed success.  A few of my close friends have had frustrating and disappointing encounters with men through dating apps and websites, and reading about Lucia’s horrible and awkward dates had me laughing out loud at times.  It was all so similar to what my own friends have dealt with and griped to me about, and so I was not at all surprised to read about Lucia going out with men who only wanted to have sex with her, or men who skipped out on her, leaving her with massive bills, or even men who attempted to stalk and coddle her.  As a woman in her mid-twenties who only recently became involved in a serious relationship, I can truly understand the difficulties of finding a boyfriend and the exhaustion of constantly going on mediocre or (worse) awful dates, and I found myself becoming connected to Lucia as I sympathized with her experiences.  I think the most remarkable thing about Lucia’s romantic journey is that love ends up being right in front of her all along (in the interest of not spoiling the plot, I won’t go into too much detail about this), and this fact reminded me of times that I have urged my friends to be open-minded, to give men a shot even if they are uncertain about their feelings at first.  I am adamant about giving everyone a chance and being open to romantic surprises, and I appreciated that Lucia was the type of character that didn’t stick to a list of desired qualities or this idealized image of the perfect man that most likely doesn’t exist.  She was eager to give every man she met a chance, and that is an important lesson that I believe every single woman (or man) can certainly learn from.

I also found the most delightful part of Chat Love to be Lucia’s interactions and relationships with her Italian family members.  As someone who is half Italian, I can tell you that Faeth narrates these moments with utter realism and understanding.  Lucia’s parents, sister, brother-in-law and grandmother are quite overbearing and incessantly demand details about her romantic endeavours, and yet I think Faeth does underscore the love they have for Lucia and their desire simply to see her happy.  That’s an experience that I have personally had, and I know all too well what it is like to be asked by your family members where your boyfriend is and why you don’t have one.  I remember a specific time when my great-grandmother, who barely spoke any English, somehow mustered up the ability to ask me, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”  When I told her No, seriously shocked at her capacity to string together that sentence and wondering who taught it to her, she asked me, “Why not?” and I just remember thinking, Nonna, if I knew the answer to that question, I would have one already!  Being asked about your relationship status, particularly by family who you don’t want to let down, is a tough situation to be in and I remember it very well, so I could totally put myself in Lucia’s shoes and felt her frustrations keenly.  Now that I have a fiancé, I have enough distance from the past to realize that my family members did genuinely mean well, and I was glad to find Lucia reaching that same conclusion toward the end of the novel.  And reading about Italian parents who make their own tomato sauce and wine was so refreshing and sweet, considering how much it reminded me of my own family.  I haven’t really ever read a book with such strong and thoroughly Italian characters, and I got a good laugh out of the moments that were so close to home for me.  If you liked the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’ll appreciate some of the moments in Chat Love and their Italian twist on that popular story.

Probably my favourite part of my reading experience of Chat Love was cataloguing Lucia’s boyfriends and dates, and rating each of the men she encountered.  I will say that I instantly hated Kellan, found Alan and Angelo extremely creepy and disgusting, and was immediately infatuated with Jackson.  Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that I am very pleased with how Lucia’s story ended, and the Epilogue was absolutely adorable!  It was the perfect happily ever after for a character I truly wished well to, and I think she definitely ended up with the right guy, someone sexy and confident, but also warm and tender enough to provide her with the love and companionship she deserves.  It was very fun for me to write a list of all of the men in Lucia’s life as I read, and I would encourage all readers of Chat Love to do that because it really felt like I was becoming Lucia’s friend and offering her my own mental advice about her encounters, the same way I would to one of my real-life friends.  My only source of frustration with Lucia was that she didn’t solve the “mistaken identity” plot sooner because it was so very obvious to me – having said that, I appreciated that Faeth wanted to build suspense and offer something more mysterious and intriguing than your average rom-com plot, and I truly felt on edge hoping that the main characters would just figure things out, unravel their differences and finally get together!

In the interest of honesty, I will say that I could not give Chat Love a full four-star rating because of one aspect of the plot: I felt that, in a few key places, I would’ve liked more information and for the narration to be expanded a bit.  I guess it’s a good sign if my only qualm about the novel is that I actually wanted more of it, more detail and description…allow me to explain… There are a few points in the novel where Lucia and her main love interest (no names will be revealed, I promise) are getting to know each other, either over lunch or during really cute and unique concert or baseball dates, and we are told by Lucia through her first-person narration that she is getting to know a lot about her love interest.  However, we aren’t given any actual snippets of their conversation or much dialogue, and in most places, we aren’t even told in summary fashion what exactly it is that Lucia has learned.  One such example comes when Lucia states, “The rest of lunch is spent talking about (name of love interest)’s childhood…”, but then quickly turns to narration of other events entirely.  I would’ve liked to read a bit more about what was revealed to Lucia, especially as moments like this were plentiful.  I knew that this love interest was becoming a dear friend to Lucia and that she was becoming intimately connected to him (and I liked him very much too!), but I really wish we were offered glimpses into their actual discussions.  I was left craving more of their interactions, and I guess that is, in its own way, a good sign and testament to how much I liked them as characters and as a couple!

I will also say that I would’ve liked to learn more, in a similar vein, about Lucia’s three best friends, Danni, Autumn and Skyler.  It would’ve been nice to read more about their individual friendships – however, I have a feeling that Faeth is intending to write novels specifically about these other three women, and I think that is a great idea because they each have such distinct experiences with and takes on love, and it would be quite cool to learn more about each of their romantic histories, in separate books.

Once again, I recommend Chat Love to anyone who loves romance but who has also had their fair share of disillusionment and heartbreak.  This novel is hilarious, endearing and relatable, and I feel that it is just the start of what Faeth has to offer as a witty and engaging author, in the style of Sophie Kinsella or Gemma Townley.  If you are a fan of works by those authors, I think you will surely enjoy Chat Love!

*A huge thank you to Justine Faeth for providing me with an electronic copy of Chat Love to read and review!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart