Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Understanding the Science of Stress ~ #JNGReads ~ A New Non-Fiction Favourite

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – Paradise Lost, John Milton

I have always loved this quote from Paradise Lost. I have it written down in several notebooks, typed out on a sticky note on my laptop that I frequently scroll over, and even had it framed on the wall of my room when I lived with my parents. From the time I first read it, back in second year university, it became a sort of mantra for me, providing me with comfort and reassurance that even if times seemed particularly bad and I felt incredibly stressed, my mind was strong enough to control those feelings and to get me through whatever stressors I encountered.

But, what I have learned in the last year is that (sometimes…often) the mind isn’t enough. Robert M. Sapolsky has a similar quote in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: “To a certain extent, our perceptions and interpretations of events can determine whether the same external circumstances constitute heaven or hell…” The crux of Sapolsky’s text, though, is that the mind isn’t always strong enough to overcome external circumstances and put them in perspective and, what’s more, sometimes the mind isn’t even capable of doing this sort of heavy lifting if there is a disorder or disease (such as depression or anxiety) that prevents it from doing so. To believe that the mind can persevere in all instances and actually change one’s perspective on reality 100% of the time is foolhardy and naive, and probably was incredibly detrimental to me back in university and had adverse effects on how I would learn to cope with stress as an adult. The point being that understanding stress and the science behind it is no simple task and certainly can’t be reduced to the belief that the mind, if persistent enough, can get a person through anything.

I don’t often read non-fiction books. In fact, I rarely read them, if ever. However, it seems that this year I have done a lot of reading of non-fiction and the main reason for this is that I have felt empowered and motivated recently to finally try to understand my anxiety. When it became evident, towards the end of my first trimester of pregnancy back this past March, that my anxiety was going to be made much more severe by my pregnant condition, I knew (partly because my doctors were telling me) that something had to give and that I needed to get a better handle on my anxious condition once and for all. Not only for my baby’s health, but also for my present and future well-being and overall happiness. Part of this process has involved seeing a psychiatrist and learning about meditation and mindfulness techniques. Part of it has been about exercising as often as possible and forcing myself to go out and interact with my friends and family members even when I don’t feel up for it. But, I have always been an avid learner, a true student at heart from the moment I entered my grade one classroom, and so I felt that I wanted to supplement my doctor’s appointments and daily activities with reading material that would allow me to come to grips with feelings I have had for my entire life. I never have put in the effort to truly understand my anxiety in this way, and I immediately picked up the self-help book Let That Sh*t Go by Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal hoping that it would be a quick and easy read that would at least help me feel a little bit better. It certainly did and it was good, but it wasn’t anything truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering and it didn’t by any means fundamentally change my perspective on anxiety. I next delved into a book recommended by my psychiatrist, Mind Over Mood, and this was of course a huge eye-opener to me in that it taught me the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy and worked wonders to help me reframe my insecurities and fears and better manage my heightened emotions. What I felt these two books lacked, though, was an explanation of what was going on in my brain, of the chemical, biological and physical mechanisms that were clearly contributing to my anxious state and probably had been since my birth. It was a desire to get to the bottom of these internal processes that led me to pick up Sapolsky’s book.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is easily one of the best books I have ever read, of any genre or category. (That’s right, I’m putting it right up there with Jane Eyre although it is, naturally, a very different text!) I was utterly blown away by Sapolsky’s work, and as someone who has never studied psychology and who only studied science up until the end of high school, I was thoroughly impressed by how accessible and relatable he made the scientific explanations in this book. This type of text could easily become overwhelming, but Sapolsky is very careful to keep things manageable for his reader, and he even infuses dry humour, jokes and wit into the text (especially in his often unexpectedly hilarious footnotes, which are a must-read in themselves). He of course uses terminology like “glucocorticoids” and names of “catecholamines” like “epinephrine” and “norepinephrine” often, but he uses them so frequently and explains them so thoroughly that the reader gets the sense, by the end of the book, that these concepts aren’t all that incomprehensible. 

I also made a conscious effort to take my time while reading this book, not because it felt dense at all, but because it did feel heavy. I admit, it was an emotional read for me because I could so easily and fundamentally relate to the findings that Sapolsky examined; I became one of the test subjects he discussed because I recognized how my experiences fit into the results and conclusions. On the one hand, it was nice to know that there is a scientific explanation for why I feel a certain way, but it was also jarring and terrifying to be confronted with so much evidence and research to explain something that I have kind of taken for granted for my entire life. It made my anxiety feel that much more real and that much more difficult to ignore.

Chapter 15, thus, became an incredibly meaningful chapter for me as it investigated anxiety disorders and the personality types that lend themselves to these sorts of disorders. Needless to say, I checked pretty much every box, and that was, as I mentioned, both liberating and scary. There was this sense, as I read, that Sapolsky just understood ME, on a fundamental level, and again, while it was nice to know that I am not alone in any of my feelings, it was also emotional. It made me even more moved when Sapolsky began to call anxiety a “disease” and distinguished it from chronic stress as being rooted in “a cognitive distortion”. Sapolsky posits that, whereas chronic stress is normally a response to an actually perceived external stressor (whether physiological or psychological), anxiety can arise due to stressors that are entirely imagined. This is definitely in-line with my own personal experiences, and while I appreciated the understanding Sapolsky’s description provided to me, no one ever wants to hear that they suffer from a disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow, and I found myself realizing that I even exhibited anxious tendencies and behaviours as a young child (such as obsessive thinking and phobias) and becoming a bit saddened and melancholy about this. With my increased knowledge certainly came a better understanding of myself, but this wasn’t always a pleasant experience to be sure.

What I did gain, most definitely, was a better comprehension of the biology of anxiety and a greater appreciation of the fact that it is a physical, scientific condition rooted in the brain. I’ve always known deep down that my anxiety is not something I have very much (if any) control over, but it is easy to believe, when something is a mental struggle, that if you can just be stronger, you can get past it. That is, after all, what Milton suggests and that quote from Paradise Lost is still one of my favourites. What is important to remember, however, is that mental illnesses are in fact just as physical as clearly physical ones, and although I always had an inkling of that, Sapolsky’s book solidified it for me. It made it clear to me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, that I might not be able to conquer this all on my own, and that is okay. It made me realize that, just as I would seek help for a broken leg, there is nothing at all embarrassing or shameful about seeking help for a troubled mind. On the contrary, it is actually quite important and necessary.

I’d like to close my review with a few quotes that particularly spoke to me from Sapolsky’s text. I will never be able to explain myself the concepts he espouses (he is a scientist, after all, and I don’t claim to be), but hopefully these quotes will give you a sense for how he writes and what value can be derived from picking up this book. It is one that has undoubtedly changed my life in so many ways and I would not hesitate to recommend it to those who wish to get to the root of what their brains might be undergoing on a daily basis.

Quotes That Particularly Resonated with Me:

“Anxiety is about dread and foreboding and your imagination running away with you.”

“the distorted belief that stressors are everywhere and perpetual, and that the only hope for safety is constant mobilization of coping responses. Life consists of the concrete, agitated present of solving a problem that someone else might not even consider exists.”

“most things that make us anxious are learned…we’ve generalized them based on their similarity to something associated with a trauma.”

“For all anxious people, life is full of menacing stressors that demand vigilant coping responses.”

***********

“Find ways to view even the most stressful of situations as holding the promise of improvement but do not deny the possibility that things will not improve…Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions, but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the worst.”

“Find that outlet for your frustrations and do it regularly.”

“Have the wisdom to pick your battles. And once you have, the flexibility and resiliency of strategies to use in those battles…”

“Sometimes, coping with stress consists of blowing down walls. But sometimes it consists of being a blade of grass, buffeted and bent by the wind but still standing when the wind is long gone.”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Two Quick Reviews on a Sunny Sunday ~ #JNGReads

Happy Sunday everyone!

I just wanted to plop two short reviews on here today, to wrap up my reading from this week. I also managed to finish P.S. I Still love You by Jenny Han this week, and you can read my longer review of it here, if you’re interested.

The Rome Affair by Karen Swan

I really enjoyed The Rome Affair, but I do have to admit that it isn’t my favourite Karen Swan novel that I’ve read recently. Although the plot was intricate, suspenseful and engaging, for some reason I just didn’t get as deeply invested in it as I did with novels like The Summer Without You and The Paris Secret. I also didn’t feel myself becoming as connected to the main character, Cesca, as I did with Cassie in Christmas at Tiffany’s (probably my favourite Karen Swan book I’ve read so far). If I had to compare this book to the others in Swan’s catalogue, I’d say it’s on par with The Greek Escape in that it was full of surprises, but not an absolute standout for me.

The Rome Affair also felt very similar, in my opinion, to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s acclaimed novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Indeed, the premises of the two novels are almost identical, and the only real difference for me was that I liked Elena of The Rome Affair far less than I liked Evelyn Hugo. Elena comes across as infuriatingly guarded and deceitful and it is extremely difficult to warm up to her, and I think that is one of the factors that made me feel less connected to the book overall. That being said, I did still enjoy The Rome Affair immensely because Karen Swan’s quintessential writing style is still present and it always manages to whisk me away immediately.

I would definitely recommend The Rome Affair as a great travel read, something perfect to pack in a carry-on or beach bag. However, if you’re looking to get a true taste for how marvelous and magical Karen Swan’s writing is, I’d recommend starting with something like Christmas at Tiffany’s instead.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Love Letters of Great Men and Women edited by Ursula Doyle

This collection was, unfortunately, very disappointing to me. I picked it up randomly a few years ago and never got around to reading it, and I can’t say that I was really anxious to pick it up, but I did think it would be a lot more compelling and romantic than it was. My main issue with the collection is that I did not consider most of the letters to actually be love letters – on the contrary, most of them were very generic, and although I would’ve expected more from some of the great poets and writers included in the just over 300 pages, I found that the majority of the letters failed to touch me in any way whatsoever.

Oddly enough, I found myself most interested in the biographies and short histories of each letter writer more than the actual letters themselves. However, I found that in most cases, the histories barely related whatsoever to the actual letters, and one seemingly minor person that was mentioned in the vast history of a writer’s life could end up being the recipient of the chosen letter without me having any idea why. I did find that I learned quite a bit from the biographies, though, so they were worth reading in that sense.

One thing that also surprised me is that I found myself moved by letters written by people I had never even heard of, more so than by letters written by figures I was familiar with. For example, I bookmarked letters written by Daniel Webster and Pierre Currie on the men’s side, and Mary Hutchinson, Claire Clairmont, Clara Wieck and Rosa Luxemburg on the women’s side without having ever heard of them prior to picking up this collection. For some reason, their letters had more of an impact on me than any others, and as you can probably surmise from this list, I found the letters written by the women included in the book to be much more emotional and interesting than those written by the men.

I will say that I was very entertained by reading the letters by Maria Branwell (mother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë), as well as Queen Victoria. Maria’s letters sounded almost like they could’ve come from the pages of Jane Eyre (which I guess makes a lot of sense, in that her writing style is very similar to Charlotte’s), and Queen Victoria’s letter of grief after Prince Albert’s death was one of the most memorable of the entire collection and one I was particularly interested in. (Sidenote: I did find myself wondering, though, why none of Charlotte Brontë’s letters to her French professor Monsieur Héger were included in this collection, since her love for him was quite well-documented and historically significant.)

All in all, I don’t know if I can recommend this collection because it just didn’t really satisfy me in any way. I feel that I could’ve found many of the historical details myself through a quick Google search, and the letters just weren’t interesting or profound enough to make picking up this specific collection seem all that worthwhile, sadly.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Role of “Mother” ~ My Favourite YouTube Pregnancy Journeys

Hi Everyone and Happy Almost-Friday!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I mentioned in a previous post, when I announced that I was pregnant. What’s been on my mind is the fact that, now that I am halfway through my pregnancy and my baby boy will be arriving soon, my identity and primary role in life will necessarily evolve into that of “mother” above all else. This is probably the most jarring thing about welcoming a baby into the world because, naturally, it is a total adjustment to reconfigure your mind and your lifestyle in a way that will put this little bundle of joy before everything. It’s taken me a few months to really come to terms with the fact that I am, technically, a mother even now, and to really think about what this means for my future. As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s very possible that this new role of “mother” will prevent me from doing things that I used to do easily in the past, but it is absolutely certain that this new identity of mine will encourage me to reprioritize many things and re-evaluate whether my life goals and pursuits are actually that crucial or significant (as compared to caring for my child). I personally am becoming very excited to give myself completely to this next chapter of my life, and I am eager to throw myself into becoming a new sort of person, one who is a combination of the ambitious, driven woman I have also been as well as the loving, caring and nurturing woman I will have to become. I think that taking on this new role will definitely shake things up for me, and help me to realize what is truly most important in life, and this is something that I am choosing to be invigorated by rather than afraid of.

One of the things that has helped me to understand what the role of “mother” will be like and how it will differ from other roles I’ve had in my life in the past is watching the pregnancy journeys of several women on YouTube. My doctor recommended to me, when I expressed concerns about coming to terms with this altered identity, that I do things to feel bonded with my baby and to make myself excited about motherhood, and I have found that following certain YouTube vloggers on their journeys to become mothers has been extremely enjoyable for me and has helped me to understand that I can be an incredible mother and also be my own person, that I can have a fulfilling and fabulous life but also choose to put my family and my child first. I have been uplifted, particularly on days of overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty, by these women’s videos, and I wanted to share some of their information with you all in case you are interested in engaging with some of their content (and seeing their ADORABLE babies!) as well.

My Favourite Pregnancy Journeys on YouTube

★ Sarahs Day 

My husband and I are pretty much obsessed with the YouTube channel Sarahs Day which follows Sarah, her boyfriend Kurt and their adorable newborn son Fox Ocean. I literally cannot stop smiling every time I watch a video on Sarah’s channel, and her Instagram stories of Fox’s daily activities are among the cutest things I have ever seen on the Internet! What I especially appreciate about Sarah’s content is just how much joy she evidently derives from being a mother – it is truly heartwarming to watch her interacting with her baby boy, and she seems to be very happy and overjoyed to have the opportunity to be his mother. Yes, she also highlights the challenges of being a new mom and the fact that her routine (particularly as it pertains to her intense workouts) has totally changed, but she never complains about any of this and there is this underlying emphasis on gratitude throughout all of her content. It is really very inspiring to me to watch her tackle each day of motherhood with positivity and optimism and enthusiasm, and those are definitely traits I want to emulate when my own baby boy comes along!

★ Carly Rowena 

Carly is an absolute badass, and I have always been a big fan of hers! When I found out that she recently had a baby girl, Jax, I had to go back and watch all of her videos related to her pregnancy. Her and her husband, Leon, are absolutely hilarious and have the best chemistry – you can tell from the beginning that they are going to be fabulous parents, and then when you see them both interacting with Jax, it becomes even more clear that they are incredible! Carly is also extremely honest, and when I was first battling my severe anxiety during my pregnancy, I turned to Carly’s videos as a source of reassurance because she speaks so openly about all of her emotions and feelings throughout her journey of motherhood. She is even more open on her Instagram stories, and she is not afraid to cry if she is frustrated or sad about something, or just having a hard day in general. She is also a total force to be reckoned with in the gym, and her pregnancy workouts have totally blown me away and made me feel so encouraged to get into the gym every day to keep up my physical and mental health. Carly is without doubt the type of fit and fabulous mother I want to be!

★ LoeppkysLife 

The channel LoeppkysLife follows Delilah and her young family. She has two children under two years old, and I particularly became interested in her content when I found out she was a fellow Canadian, since it is so helpful to get information about hospital systems and things of that sort that are actually relevant to my own experience. Delilah’s vlogs are especially nice because she is so down-to-earth and genuine – she is, like Carly and Sarah, totally honest about her emotions and does not shy away from admitting if she’s having a hard time or is feeling frustrated and depressed. She’s not trying to portray this perfect veneer of motherhood, but at the same time, her affection for her children is obvious and they are clearly so enamoured with her. It’s also so cute when her daughter decides to take over the camera and vlog for herself, and you just get this sweet picture of a humble and realistic family! I feel like I could be friends with Delilah in real-life because she so kind. And, her Instagram content is absolutely beautiful because her photos all have a really curated, gorgeous style – definitely a mother I will be following throughout my own journey as a parent!

Honourable Mentions

My husband and I mainly watch the three content creators mentioned above, but we do find the time to sprinkle in videos from two other channels as well: Aspyn and Parker and Colleen Ballinger. Content from both of these channels always brings a huge smile to our faces! Colleen is absolutely hilarious, and while my husband also really likes her Miranda Sings persona, I appreciate being able to see her real side in her interactions with her newborn son. She’s unfailingly honest as well and tells it like it is (she was super honest about her son’s colicky phase and how heartbreaking that was for her), and that’s something I think is really valuable in any content directed at new mothers. Aspyn and Parker are also incredibly endearing, and Aspyn in only a few weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy, so it is really nice to see what she is going through in real-time as I am also experiencing it all myself.

One thing I try not to do, as I watch videos from all of these YouTube channels, is compare my exact experiences to what these ladies are going through or have gone through, because I know every pregnancy is different and no two babies are exactly alike. That being said, it has been very comforting to watch other young mothers go through the experience of pregnancy and childbirth and come out the other side with these gorgeous, lovable babies. I get more and more excited about my baby boy’s arrival with each YouTube video I watch – truly, September cannot come soon enough!

Do you have any recommendations for other similar YouTube channels I should subscribe to? I’d love to hear!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Three More Reads and No Time to Waste… ~ #JNGReads

Below are three more reviews of books I’ve finished in the last little while, leading up to and around Christmas.  Although I’d love to hang around and chat, there’s no time to lose if I want to finish at least one more book before 2019!  Here goes!

The Christmas Project by Maxine Morrey

This book is adorable, for sure, and was the perfect holiday read! I needed something as light and fluffy as snow, and this choice certainly did not disappoint.

Having said that, it wasn’t the best chick lit. book ever, and although it tried to muster up some references to Jane Eyre (my most favourite novel of all time), it did so too late in the game for me to really take the comparisons seriously. But, like I said, it was FUN…and what more could you ask for around Christmas?

One mini-rant, though: This was the second e-book I read on my new iPhone X (WOO!) and for some reason, it had a glaring number of typos in it. I was not pleased about this, so I wonder if the print version might’ve been a better choice?

Anyway, if you’re looking for a quick holiday read to delve into beside a fire, this is a good choice!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Tangled by Emma Chase

I REALLY liked this book!!! I mean, it is an Emma Chase novel so I knew I’d enjoy it and read it quickly, but I wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

I just truly enjoyed Drew’s narration. This was one of the best male narrations written by a female author that I’ve ever read! I found his voice to be so distinct, unique and hilarious, and not at all filled with annoying clichés.

I know this will sound weird, but I also related to Drew’s narration because he reminds me of myself. Okay, so no, I’m not a man who sleeps around…I’m decidedly neither of those things. BUT the way Drew talks to himself, his little one liners and pep talks, reminded me of how I sometimes narrate my own life…you know, doesn’t everyone do that? Anyway, I think if I knew Drew in real-life, I’d actually really like him and laugh a lot!

I’d highly recommend this book for sure because it’s a quick, fun and extremely entertaining read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Wuthering Heights is a book I think about, one way or another, every day.”

^This describes exactly how I have felt about Jane Eyre since I first read it in grade 12.

“It’s probably unwise to romanticize everything – and I’ll probably always do it.”

What can I say, I just love books where fellow readers talk about the novels and characters they love!  Is this a perfect book?  No, I don’t think so because I sometimes found it hard to follow the threads and connections from one paragraph to another.  However, was it a joy to read about Ellis’ passion for her favourite characters?  Absolutely! And what’s even more amazing is that I came out of reading this book with about 10 new books on my To-Read List…so yes, I am going to continue to be buried by books, but I am excited to delve into some of Ellis’ preferred novels that I haven’t yet read or encountered!

So, although it wasn’t technically perfect, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and lovely read, like sitting down with a best friend to discuss literature over a warm tea!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ Summer #JNGReads

FALL IS HERE!!!

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

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

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

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

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

THANK YOU FOR READING!!! xo

Origin by Dan Brown

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

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

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight

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

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Love… From Both Sides by Nick Spalding

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

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

My Favourite Quote

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies by Laura Stampler

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

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

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

 

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

Things I Liked:

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

– The fashion!

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

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

Things I Didn’t Like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

So Near The Horizon ~ #JNGReads

I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much reading a novel as I did when finishing So Near The Horizon by Jessica Koch.

I am an emotional reader, that’s for sure. But, despite the fact that I often become seriously attached to characters and feel as though I’m living through their stories right along with them, I rarely cry when reading novels. Maybe that’s because I normally stick to fiction and I’m able to remind myself that what I’m reading is, after all, just a story. That doesn’t mean I don’t find myself thinking about a character or agonizing over their drama weeks after I’ve finished a book, but it does mean that I don’t usually allow myself to fall apart because of one.

So Near The Horizon was bound to be a different reading experience from the start because the story portrayed is a true one. I guess the novel should be classified as creative non-fiction in the sense that the author, Jessica Koch, writes about her own true experiences and real-life relationship with her boyfriend, Danny, but adds a narrative style to the whole story that makes it flow as freely and addictively as any fictional romance I have ever read. And, the novel does certainly start off as most other conventional romances do: Girl meets incredibly handsome, but obviously damaged Boy, Boy and Girl begin to go on dates while Girl tries to unravel all of Boy’s secrets. Once Danny begins to share details about his past with Jessica, however, it becomes clear that his story, and their love story together, is unlike anything that has been published to date, and is not so conventional as it originally seemed. On the contrary, Danny and Jessica’s story is heart wrenching, heartbreaking and devastating, and it is a story that I felt truly touched and changed by.

It is impossible to say too much about So Near The Horizon without ruining it – I truly can’t say anything substantial about the plot without giving away the most important details. But, suffice it to say, it is one of my most powerful books I have read in recent years. It joins the ranks of such texts as Angels in America and Middlesex for how profoundly and poignantly it treats sensitive topics and for how much I learned from and was fundamentally changed by it. Danny is an absolutely remarkable “character” (I use the term “character” loosely because he was, after all, a real person), and I have no doubt that he was an absolutely remarkable man in real-life as well. He has an infectious love for life, for adventure and excitement and motion, and I can only imagine what a force of nature he was to be around. I won’t soon forget Danny, and indeed, Jessica herself is such an inspiring and strong woman that I feel that I am myself a better and stronger woman for having read her story.

So Near The Horizon is without doubt one of the saddest books I have ever read. As I mentioned before, it left me in tears, crushed and sobbing and shaking, at the very end. To reduce So Near The Horizon to just being a sad book would be to do it a great disservice though. So Near The Horizon is also extremely uplifting, if one is willing only to read between the lines and be open to the valuable lessons it has to impart. So much of the book’s strength and force comes from its subtle assertion that life is too short, that people need to grab at it and do everything they can with this one life they have to live. Although So Near The Horizon addresses topics of fear and anxiety, it also continually underlines the notion that life must be lived without fear, that it must be seized and made the most of, that people need to go out on a limb and take risks and love fiercely and ferociously and without restraint. I found myself realizing that I was worried about so many inconsequential things while reading So Near The Horizon, and while I know I won’t be able to stop myself from worrying about the little things completely, I do hope that in moments when my anxiety gets the better of me and I get hung up on mundane problems, I will be able to call Danny and Jessica’s examples to mind and put things in perspective. There is so much beauty to behold in the world, so many adventures to take advantage of, and So Near The Horizon is a serious example to never, ever take any of life’s opportunities for granted.

So Near The Horizon is also a moving and powerful love story, about sacrifice, loyalty and perseverance, and it is such an inspiration for me personally, especially as I enter married life and come to terms with the fact that my new husband and I will have to face so many things in our time together. It is simply inevitable, and So Near The Horizon has taught me that, rather than being bogged down or fearful of these obstacles my husband and I may face, I should always keep my chin up (and encourage my husband to do the same) because love is a magical force that can conquer so many obstacles. The theme of togetherness is so firmly reinforced in So Near The Horizon, and it is an idea that I intend to cling on to.

I would recommend So Near The Horizon to anyone and everyone (in fact, I think I may pass it along to my mother and best friend in the weeks to come), but it isn’t a story for the faint of heart. There is trauma and tragedy in it…but there are also moments of gorgeous light and friendship and love, that it is absolutely worth taking this ride with Danny and Jessica to have a chance to experience and take away the lessons their story can provide. I would not hesitate to mark So Near The Horizon as one of my favourite books, and I know it is a story I will not soon forget.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*A huge thank you to Jessica Koch for providing me with a copy of So Near The Horizon to read and review. I am truly touched to have had the opportunity to read Danny’s story, and it was an honour to review the book!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

2 Mini-Reviews and an Update ~ #JNGReads …and reads…and reads!

Hello dear Readers and welcome to a midweek mini-update!

Remember when I wrote that post a short while ago, outlining the books I wanted to read to finish off 2017? Well, it turns out, I’m a faster reader than I thought because I blasted through the Six of Crows duology and found that, if I stuck to the reading plan as it was, I would be finished all of the books I wanted to read well before the end of December. While this would normally be a good thing because I could pick up some additional novels toward the end of the year and into 2018, I desperately want to finish my year with a re-read of Jane Eyre. I want to be reading that beloved favourite of mine when I get married (on December 22nd, specifically), and it only makes sense to position Jane Steele and Mr. Rochester just before that. So, with that particular plan for the very end of the year in mind, I decided last week to insert a few short, lighter reads into my plan before I reach the Jane Eyre-themed end of 2017.

I began by picking up two books that have been on my To-Read List for quite some time and that, fortunately for my plan, only took me a handful of days each to finish. With that being said, though, I didn’t have too much to say about either of them in terms of a proper review, so I decided to combine my thoughts on them into one post here on the blog. Below, you’ll find these reviews…and look for many more reviews coming as 2017 winds to a close!

Unfiltered by Lily Collins

Below is a review I posted on Goodreads for the non-fiction book Unfiltered by actress Lily Collins. I didn’t have much to say about the collection of essays, which I finished in 2 days’ time, so I did not feel it warranted its own blog post…

I don’t have too much to say about Unfiltered so I will keep my comments brief, as I am rather ambivalent about it.

This collection of essays by actress Lily Collins is fun and light, which is both a compliment and a criticism. I believe that its style is very accessible, particularly for readers in the young adult category. However, Collins does attempt to write about some important subject matter, such as her struggles with anorexia and bulimia and her experiences in an abusive relationship, and I felt that in these specific essays, she failed to dig as deeply as she could have. The book is replete with platitudes but there aren’t any really profound conclusions or morals to be drawn from it. Collins does a good job of presenting herself as just like any one of us, but that is mainly because she doesn’t give enough specifics about her personal struggles for the reader to feel like they truly understand her. I was a bit disappointed in that sense because I expected to learn new things about her as a person, but I found that I did not. I also wasn’t fond of the humble brags that seemed to abound in the text, and while I enjoy Collins’ acting and think she’s very beautiful, it annoyed me slightly that she professed to be amazing at so many different things, such as journalism and cooking. It was all a bit much for my liking, and although I’m sure she’s very talented at many things, I felt that her overt discussion of it distanced me from her and made it so that she wasn’t believable as the girl next door.

That being said, I enjoyed the collection well enough, and the pictures added a nice layer of intimacy to the text. It isn’t a masterpiece by any standards, but I think it would prove to be an enjoyable read for younger fans of Lily Collins, especially because she writes with a simplistic style and addresses a younger audience (rather than one that is closer to her own age of 28).

Overall, pleasant enough and a quick, easy read!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

I am a huge fan of Madeleine Wickham…or rather, I should say that I am a huge fan of her when she writes under her pen name, Sophie Kinsella. That’s right, the author of this little known chick lit. novel is in fact the hugely famous writer of the Shopaholic series, among other awesome stories (shout out to I’ve Got Your Number, my personal favourite!). Although I’ve read almost all of Kinsella’s novels, I had never picked up one of Wickham’s, until a few days ago.

I’ve owned Cocktails for Three for about three years now, since I picked it up at a used book sale. It sat on my bookshelf for all this time because I just never felt in the mood for it, having heard mixed reviews about the stories Kinsella writes under her real name. I always opted to read a “proper” Kinsella novel, rather than delving into Cocktails for Three, and I only picked up this novel this week because I wanted a quick read that I would be done with rapidly.

Well, Cocktails for Three is certainly a quick read, but it is also one that has left me conflicted. I both enjoyed it and found it very slow, and I couldn’t reconcile the fact that Wickham is Kinsella, and vice versa, because the tones and styles of their novels are just so different. Kinsella’s novels are effortlessly hilarious, replete with over-the-top but endearing characters whose dramatic lives still somehow seem to be relatable to the reader. Cocktails for Three is perhaps even more relatable in the sense that the characters are very average and every day, but for some reason, I just couldn’t make myself like any of the three main characters, Candice, Maggie and Roxanne. It wasn’t until about two thirds into the novel that I even enjoyed it at all, and I felt myself wavering between being excited by the story and feeling helplessly bored by it.

I think, as I just mentioned, my main reason for struggling with Cocktails for Three is that I didn’t find any of the female leads likable. They each have these flaws that are extremely difficult to look past and which I found pretty annoying: Candice is ridiculously naïve and innocent, to the point of making me want to slap her; Maggie is so unprepared for motherhood that she seems not to think it bad to drink or be around cigarette smoke while pregnant; and Roxanne is in the midst of a 6 year long affair with a married man, which is a story arc that has always rubbed me the wrong way, since I first began reading chick lit. I admit that, as I got halfway into the novel, I started to warm up to the three characters, but I still found it hard to ignore Roxanne’s immorality, Candice’s ignorance and Maggie’s selfishness. What’s more, there wasn’t really anything romantic about this novel, and while not every novel has to be a romance of course, I’ve grown so accustomed to how artfully Kinsella writes romance that it made me kind of sad to read a novel of hers that was love-free.

With all that said, somehow, I look back on the novel now and I feel like I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a favourite by any means, but I do have to admit that it breaks the chick lit. mold and doesn’t rely on stereotypes or clichés. I appreciate that, and while I didn’t love the story or the characters, I found the novel interesting enough and was overall happy and occupied while reading it.

This is certainly a hard one to rate… I think I’ll definitely give another novel by Wickham a chance in the future, to see if they all adhere to this slightly different style…but I probably will pick up another Kinsella novel first!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

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

The White Queen – #JNGReads

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory is a novel that I am quite confused about and am finding difficult to review. This is partly because I don’t even know that it should be classified as a novel, and the writing style and structure doesn’t really fit exactly within my knowledge of the genre of historical fiction.

I picked up The White Queen because of my eagerness to read another novel in the series it is part of, The White Princess. I recently came across photos for the new TV series based on The White Princess, and I immediately wanted to watch it, but I knew that it would be a better idea to read the book first. I then remembered wanting to watch the series The White Queen as well, and since I knew that it was also based on one of Gregory’s novels, I decided to read it first, watch The White Queen, and then move onto the story of her daughter, the White Princess.

Well, after finishing The White Queen, I am still eager to watch the TV adaptation and read The White Princess, but I do have to admit that The White Queen was not written at all how I expected it to be. My only other experience of Gregory’s writing was in reading her more famous book The Other Boleyn Girl, as well as The Virgin’s Lover, which comes a few books after the story of the Boleyn sisters. I read both of those novels when I was in high school, and I remember enjoying them immensely. I’ve always liked historical fiction, both when it comes to literature and to other types of media like movies and TV, and I do know that I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl and The Virgin’s Lover very much because they were addictive and highly entertaining and transported me straight to regal England. The descriptions and scenes were vivid and detailed, and I felt immersed in the lives of the characters. I know that much of Gregory’s storylines and the interactions between her characters were fictionalized, but I also felt like I achieved a better understanding of the time period she wrote of and I actually did feel like I learned many things about the history of England and some of its most famous monarchs. Amidst all of that though, I did grow attached to the characters, their struggles and anxieties in trying to maintain power and authority, and I felt as though I had an invested interest in their lives and their tragedies and triumphs.

With The White Queen, things were a bit different, and I feel that all I received really was a history lesson. This is largely due to how the novel is written. In The White Queen, Gregory adopts a style where she basically summarizes a great deal of information into not so many pages. I honestly don’t think there was even much dialogue in The White Queen, and when there was, it was incredibly simplistic, to the point and often very dry. (Sidenote: I will say that the last quarter of the novel featured much more dialogue, and the conversations between The White Queen and her daughter Elizabeth, the future White Princess, were quite tense and interesting – but I don’t know that they made up for the lack of dialogue and connection between the characters in the first three quarters of the novel.) Gregory does a great job of running through the events of Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s reign and marriage to King Edward, but it is unclear why she even chose Elizabeth to narrate the story because there is nothing unique or outstanding about Elizabeth’s voice. At times, it felt as though I was reading a history textbook, devoid of bias or personal interest, and this just didn’t seem to jive with the fact that Elizabeth does in fact have a distinct role and influence in her husband’s reign. At the same time that the story was written in textbook style, however, it was also missing any concrete facts or hard-hitting details; Gregory glossed over a lot of gritty, nuanced historical information, and instead summarized battles and feuds in a handful of pages or less. She does cover a remarkable number of years in her story, but there isn’t any real character development throughout because we never really get to hear her character’s speak or see them in action. Instead, it is almost as if we are being told a story in conversation, as if anecdotes and events are being recounted to us without depth or any real insight into the causes and factors behind and surrounding them.

I have also read several reviews on Goodreads in which fellow readers said that they found The White Queen to be very repetitive, and I definitely have to agree with that assessment. Certain phrases were repeated, verbatim, within mere pages, and Gregory mentioned characters’ titles constantly, almost as if she needed to remind the reader every time a person was mentioned, who exactly they were. The main characters appear so frequently, though, and the novel is only just over 400 pages long, so I found it very unnecessary to read that George was the Duke of Clarence or Thomas was Elizabeth’s Grey son on every other page. It just made my reading experience that much more tedious. Gregory also goes so far as to repeat ideas over and over, particularly when Elizabeth is reflecting on the politics of her husband’s reign and her royal position. It is almost as though we are witness to the constant obsessing that Elizabeth does, but because she never adds anything new to her reflections, this is more frustrating than insightful. However, despite all the repetition (which I sort of think is just be evidence of lazy writing), Gregory’s tale does flow very nicely, and once you get into the hang of reading it, it is very easy to get through many pages in one sitting. It’s somewhat of a strange paradox when you think about it, and perhaps the fact that Gregory’s writing is so repetitive makes it that much less complicated and easier to blast through rapidly. Who knows?

The thing that makes it so difficult to review The White Queen, though, is that I still found it really interesting and enjoyed reading it, in spite of its many flaws. It was definitely frustrating to get so little information about specific characters and to feel as though historical details were being diluted and washed over, while at the same time having some phrases and ideas incessantly repeated, but I still did find myself entertained as I read. It’s true that I didn’t have any strong emotional connection to any one character, but I certainly wasn’t dreading reading more of the book, and on the contrary, I found that when I did have a moment to sit down and read it, I got through many pages quite quickly because of the smooth and fluid style.

The best I can say, I guess, is that The White Queen is an average novel. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, especially because I remembered Gregory’s style to be more rich and opulent. But, I do think it will make an incredible TV series because there is so much subject matter to be treated and there are so many dialogues I can imagine coming out of scenes that Gregory somewhat flitted past. I’ll certainly be interested to watch The White Queen, and I do still intend to read The White Princess to see if Gregory perhaps developed a more detailed style and a knack for getting inside the minds of these particular characters later in the series.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart