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

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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

God Save the Queen – #JNGReads

victoria

My second read of 2017 is already under my belt, and we’re not even halfway through January. That’s 2 out of my Goodreads goal of 18 for the year down – go me! Right on schedule.

I’ve just finished reading Daisy Goodwin’s historical fiction novel Victoria. Now, it’s a well-known fact that I am a huge fan of both Victorian literature and the monarch who gave her name to this era, and I did in fact watch the entire ITV series Victoria when it was released. So, for that reason, this was a bit of a strange reading experience for me. I normally make it a point to never read a book after seeing the film or TV adaptation. The only time I ever did that (until now) was in high school, when I had to read Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a Writer’s Craft assignment. Obviously I was already very familiar with the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn, and I found it extremely difficult to fall in love with Capote’s tale because I was constantly comparing it to the film version. I also read that Capote really did not like Audrey in the role of Holly Golightly, but I could not stop myself from picturing her as I read, so I feel like I never had a natural, authentic reading experience. I just wasn’t able to fully appreciate Capote’s text and prose, and it has been one of my least favourite literary texts ever since.

I desperately did not want the same thing to happen with Goodwin’s Victoria. I absolutely ADORED the ITV series of the same name, so I was equally eager and wary to read the literary equivalent. I was at once afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell out of my head when reading about Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, as well as desperate to have a chance to continue experiencing the story that I fell so in love with while watching the TV show. I have to say that, now that I have finished reading the novel, I am still very conflicted about whether or not I am happy that I had watched the TV series prior to reading the story. Part of me wishes that I hadn’t because the plot was much less surprising given the fact that much of the dialogue was taken directly from the show and many of the scenes paralleled each other. On the other hand, the novel did go into greater depth during the most significant scenes, and if anything, I felt that it added subtle details and intricacies to the moments from the series that I was most fond of. It’s really hard to rate Victoria for all these reasons – I feel like I can’t quite judge it on its own, as a novel in its own right, and I think that is unfortunate. But, I did still thoroughly enjoy it and I finished it rather quickly because I was so connected to the characters and so eager to revisit them.

The novel was also different from the series in one important respect: (SPOILER ALERT) it ends with the scene in which Victoria proposes to her beloved future husband, Prince Albert. If you’ve seen the ITV series, you’ll know that it goes on after this particular moment, to investigate the early days of Victoria and Albert’s marriage, until they have their first child. I really do love Albert and I think his relationship with Victoria was very significant historically, so I preferred the second half of the TV series because Albert was featured in it. Having said that, the first half explores Victoria’s relationship with Lord Melbourne (Lord M as she likes to playfully call him), and that was lovely to watch unfold as well. There was undeniable chemistry between the two characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them engage in a quasi-romance that was at once forbidden and intoxicating. The novel Victoria delves into this relationship between Queen V and Lord M much further, and we are given a lot more insight into the internal feelings and emotions of each character. While I was disappointed that Albert wasn’t introduced until around 315 pages into the novel (it is only 400 pages in total, so Albert is barely in it), I also found it interesting to get a closer look at a relationship that was sort of overshadowed towards the end of the TV series. I do like Lord M very much, and although I know the romantic aspects of his relationship with Queen Victoria are highly fictionalized and not really grounded in historical fact at all, I still did enjoy getting a closer glimpse into what Lord M might have felt for his much younger monarch and friend.

My experience reading Victoria was undoubtedly pleasurable, despite all the qualms I mentioned above, and probably what I liked most about it was witnessing the young Victoria begin her reign. This moment in her history is treated rather quickly in the series – although Victoria’s struggles in being a young, female monarch are constantly treated, we do tend to focus more on the romances she engages in (or at least, I did while watching). The novel was different in that it thoroughly investigated several scenes in which Victoria is forced to stand up for herself, assert her authority as a monarch and develop her own voice. These moments are wonderful to behold, and they gave me such inspiration as a young woman in the working world, developing her professional career. I latched on to several quotes from these points of the novel because they reminded me that Queen Victoria was a remarkable and revolutionary monarch and still serves as an important role model for young women in a world still very much dominated by men. I loved witnessing Victoria stand up to Sir John Conroy and her uncle the Duke of Cumberland, and I cheered for her whenever she was grounded and strong. She was admittedly somewhat childish and immature at times, but it was also fascinating to see her develop from a petulant adolescent into a more self-assured and self-aware leader. I think this aspect of the novel was more exciting and engaging for me than any of the romantic bits, and for that reason, I would highly recommend Victoria to teenage girls, particularly those in high school, who may be in the market for a powerful role model.

“she would start as she meant to go on.”

“‘It is time that people stopped seeing me as a little girl.’”

“‘I am tired of being treated as a young lady without a thought in her head.’”

To conclude my review, I have to be perfectly honest and say that I preferred the TV series to the novel Victoria. That may be due in large part to the fact that the TV series is visually astonishing – the costumes, the sets, the actors are so remarkable and it is a series that I don’t think I will ever forget. Goodwin writes with a very cinematographic style, and you can clearly tell that she is imagining and picturing each of the scenes she writes, so I think they come across as already being made for the screen. I do believe that the two mediums go hand in hand, though, so I would certainly say that if you view this novel as a companion to the TV show and engage in enjoying the two together, the experience will be very pleasurable.

❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book alone

❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book as a complement to the TV series (admittedly my favourite TV series of all time)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Crown – #JNGWatches

Good evening Dear Readers and welcome to 2017 at The World of my Green Heart!

My apologies for the extreme delay in posting, but time got away from me over these holidays, since my last blog entry. I’ll mention a bit more about this in tomorrow’s post (yes, that’s right, you’ll be getting two posts in a row to make up for my absence!), but I was specifically kept away from my computer by SS who happened to have 10 days off of work over the holidays. We were able to spend all of these 10 days together – he is right beside me as I write this very text – and I just couldn’t find time to get onto my laptop or even to read. I am finding the time now, though, and I am happy to say that I have many ideas for posts that will be coming very soon! I’m also thoroughly enjoying my current read, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, so I am certain that I will be finishing it within the next few days, as I get back to work and my lunchtime Starbucks reading routine. I’ve set myself a goal of 18 books in the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge, and what with my full time work schedule and spending every weekend with SS, I think I will be keeping myself pretty busy trying to read a book and a half every month for the next year. Wish me luck!

Anyway, let’s get to the subject of today’s particular post. I’m a fan of the monarchy – actually, that’s not entirely true. I’m a fan of Queen Victoria but that doesn’t mean that I’m an expert on English history by any standards. I know a lot about the Victorian era in terms of literature and culture, and I am a collector of facts pertaining to the queen who gave this time period her name, but that doesn’t mean I know much about King Henry the VIII or Queen Elizabeth I or even the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. While I woke up ridiculously early in second year university to watch the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I’m not a super fan of the Windsor family really. I appreciate their existence and I like the idea of royal families, but I don’t know much about the current family that inhabits Buckingham Palace.

You can’t imagine, however, just how many people have asked me if I’ve seen Netflix’s new original series The Crown. In theory, it makes perfect sense that they would be shocked that it took me this long to get around to watching it – I’m very vocal about my love for Queen Victoria, so it stands to reason that I would also be interested in (or even obsessed with) Queen E II. I’m not though, so I didn’t feel the same passion to watch The Crown that I did when I watched ITV’s drama Victoria. Not even close, to be frank. But, the phenomenon that is this Netflix series certainly intrigued me, so I sat down this past week and blasted through all 10 episodes with SS.

I have to say, I really did enjoy it. Like I said, I don’t know much about Elizabeth’s reign, specifically the beginning of it in the early 1950’s, and I did learn quite a lot about the economic and social climate of the mid-20th century. Having said that, I did find many parts of the series, particularly the more political bits involving the government at Downing Street, to be a touch boring and hard to follow. While John Lithgow put in a formidable and admirable performance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, I still didn’t love the parts where he and his fellow politicians were discussing the laws of England. It didn’t seem all that relevant to me and I found it hard to keep track of their issues, concerns and preoccupations.

What I did really enjoying about the series, though, was the relationships it explored, and the way in which the characters within these relationships were portrayed. In terms of more minor characters, I became very fond of King George, particularly during the flashbacks that were used after his death early in the series, and I also became fascinated by his brother, the former King Edward VIII. The conflicts that these men experience, due largely to the pressures of being royalty, are quite surprising, and I was interested in King Edward’s relationship with the divorced woman he chose over his throne. These were elements of English history that I had no idea about, and I felt the brotherly relationship between George and Edward was really nicely portrayed and explored. The same can be said for the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret. Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby play these roles to perfection, and each dialogue they engage in is full of masterfully measured tone and body language that suggests a discomfort and jealousy between the two sisters that I hadn’t previously expected. Their relationship becomes more and more complicated as the series progresses, and as Margaret becomes open about her relationship with a divorced man, and it is very interesting to see the internal tension that Elizabeth experiences as she must choose whether to be a good sister or a responsible queen. I was on the edge of my seat during many of the conversations between these two characters, and I think Foy and Kirby had great chemistry and were very believable as sisters who both love and resent each other.

The breakout star of the series was, for me, Matt Smith as Prince Philip. Wow, that man was something else! I’m not a Doctor Who fan at all and I’ve actually never even seen an episode, but I know a lot of people who are very fond of Matt Smith, and now I can see why. He’s a fabulous actor, and his portrayal of Philip was so surprising to me in every way! Maybe I don’t know enough about the real-life Prince Philip, but I was shocked to find that he is portrayed as a bit of a playboy in The Crown. His one liners are witty and totally unexpected, and he comes across as quite immature and difficult to deal with most of the time. Smith gives Philip an element of the juvenile, but he is also arguably the most memorable character. The scenes between Elizabeth and Philip are uncomfortable and fascinating, and I am very eager to see how their relationship develops over the next several seasons. It’s interesting to watch a series where we know exactly what the ending will be: Elizabeth and Philip will live into their nineties and remain married. What makes this series unique is that it takes the inevitable and complicates it, providing us viewers with a glimpse into the dramas that resulted in the present we are so familiar with.

There’s no doubt that The Crown is a good piece of television, and I’m not surprised that it is nominated for several Golden Globes. My prediction is that it will win many, and I was hoping to see an award for Matt Smith myself, which doesn’t seem like it will be possible considering that he wasn’t even nominated (an outrage, in my opinion, unless I’m missing something and he was in fact nominated…?!). I would, in any case, highly recommend the series because it makes for an intriguing and dramatic watching experience. It is definitely binge worthy!

Let me know in the comments below if you get around to watching it and what you think.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Long Live… – #WomanCrushWednesday

~ Long live Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria! ~

This is just a quick note to say that I have been missing ITV’s new series Victoria very much. It became a real source of joy for me and was a viewing event I really looked forward to each week.

So, for the second time, I am putting forth Queen Victoria as my World of my Green Heart #WomanCrushWednesday. But, more specifically, this time I would like to make Jenna Coleman, the spectacularly talented actress who portrays the young Queen V, my WCW. I recently snapped up the issue of Glamour UK that features her on the cover, and devoured the article about her. She seemed so down-to-earth and lovely, and I grew to appreciate her talent even more. It’s definitely worth a read – and is that cover photo gorgeous or what?

There’s another thing that JNG has read and enjoyed this week…

queen-jenna-coleman

PS – This is also a good opportunity to thank the lovely Alice and Mary at the Milk & Honey blog for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award!  This was such a sweet surprise, especially from two bloggers whose writing I have recently become quite obsessed with.  Take a look at their page because it is so creative and unique!  And thank you again to these fellow avid readers for recognizing something in my blog…I sincerely appreciate it!  I think this post portrays how much thought and effort I put into making my posts versatile, so it is so nice to be noticed for that. xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

My Mother’s Secret

I recently finished another very short novel that I received from my fiancé’s father about a month ago. My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is a novel that I had seen advertised many times on public transit and that looked quite intriguing to me. It chronicles, in a fictitious manner, the true story of a woman named Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena who hid and saved two Jewish families and one German soldier during WWII. They lived in Sokal, Poland at the time and the novel uses the narration of Helena as well as three of the hidden men to document the trials and tribulations of this small makeshift “family”.

The subject matter of this very short (only 188 pages) story is very interesting and poignant. It is fascinating to learn of the strength and bravery of these women. I have read many accounts of the Second World War, especially in high school, but I had never heard of these two women, and so I was gratified to learn their story. I believe this would be an excellent novel to teach in late elementary school (around grade 7 or 8) or in high school history classes as it really does give an important and memorable insight into the lives of those who were directly affected by the horrors of WWII. It could easily be taught alongside The Diary of Anne Frank.

Having said that, the only objection I have to this novel is how simplistically it is written. The prose is extremely straightforward and simple, and it really does feel as though the story is told for a younger audience. While the novel does explain many details of the subjects’ daily lives, it is told in such a generic manner and absolutely no real internal monologue is provided. Events are documented in almost journalistic fashion, and even when Helena discusses her love for her eventual husband Casmir and her devastation over the death of her brother Damian, there is a noticeable void of emotion and sentimentality. The facts are reported and stated, but there is no opportunity to delve into how any of the narrators feel.

I am conflicted about this story. I felt that I learned a great deal throughout my reading, but the writing style was not at all memorable to me. It was choppy and too bland at times, although the events that occurred were very significant.  If I compare this to other stories I’ve read about the war, such as Night by Elie Wiesel, I find that this story will leave a bit less of an impact on me, but only because there was no emotional content that really tugged at my heart.

I would definitely recommend that people read this book to gain greater knowledge about the events of WWII, but they should approach it as they would a newspaper article or documentary, with little expectation of character development.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Plain Charlotte – #JNGReads

Charlotte Brontë's Fiery Heart

I’ve just finished Claire Harman’s biography of my most favourite and idolized author, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, and I am almost stunned into silence by just how beautiful, tragic and haunting Charlotte’s life was.

Harman’s biography is not altogether touching and memorable because of its articulation of facts and details about Charlotte’s life – that sort of information can be easily found on the internet, and I was aware of most of it from my extensive reading about Charlotte’s life in Haworth (including Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë) and from my trip three summers ago to the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Any interested reader and fan of the Brontë sisters can gather a lot of information about their secluded, solitary existences by picking up a book from the local library or visiting the number of websites that speculate and provide reliable insight into their lifestyles.

But what Harman’s biography does that I hadn’t encountered previously in a detailing of Charlotte Brontë’s life is explore Charlotte’s insecurities, her sense of inadequacy and her fear of loneliness as a (young by modern standards, but of spinster status in her own Victorian estimation) woman. Charlotte Brontë was, after all, just that: a woman with strong, complicated and powerful emotions that she used with such eloquence in her fiction but that also plagued her in her own, every day life. Harman explores Charlotte’s greatest weakness: the fact that she does not believe herself to be pretty or physically appealing, and her lamentation of the fact that she will never be beautiful. Harman is able to quote several men who knew Charlotte well on this point, and their opinions of her social anxieties and her discontent with her own appearance are fascinating to behold:

“‘But I believe that she would have given all her genius and her fame to have been beautiful.’” – George Smith, Charlotte’s publisher

“‘rather than have fame rather than any other earthly good or mayhap heavenly one she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with.’”

– William Makepeace Thackeray

As Harman puts forth in her careful analysis of these quotes by male contemporaries of Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte desired nothing more ardently in her life (not even renown as an authoress) than reciprocated love and affection. Harman relates how Charlotte sought this sort of union with her former Belgian professor, Monsieur Constantin Héger, as well as, years later, with her publisher George Smith. Sadly, these men never returned her sentiments, and although Charlotte wed Arthur Bell Nicholls (curate of the parsonage at Haworth) after publishing her final completed novel, Villette, according to Harman, she often lamented the fact that she did not look as she wished to and was not pleasing to the eye. She even expressed these emotions in the words of her character Lucy Snowe of Villette:

“‘Was it weak to lay so much stress on an opinion about appearance?’”

Villette, Charlotte Brontë

I find this line absolutely heartbreaking, but strangely reassuring. Although it represents just how sad Charlotte was and just how hard she was on herself, it also grounds her relevance much more soundly in our modern society. Charlotte’s anxieties are, in my opinion, very contemporary; her obsession with her own appearance almost places her in the 21st century, an era in which young women (and undoubtedly, young men as well) are encouraged to compare themselves to glossy and airbrushed magazine ads, to carefully constructed and filtered Instagram posts. There is no doubt that modern individuals are obsessed with looking “good”, but not only that, with looking a particular way. Whether or not Charlotte Brontë was a handsome woman is almost impossible to say, not because very few photos of her exist (in fact, only one drawn from life exists), but because this assessment is highly subjective. Unfortunately, the subjective and opinion-based nature of judgments of physical attractiveness did not stop Charlotte, a woman quite confident in her skills and talents, from doubting herself, from feeling unlovable and repulsive. I think this is absolutely tragic, and as I read Harman’s biography, especially in the final chapters that treated her writing of Villette and her lifelong struggle with self-consciousness, I almost grieved for Charlotte’s unrequited love and for the fact that she gave so much of herself to a dream of romantic fulfillment that she was never able to fully realize.

“the purest gem – and to me far the most precious – life can give – genuine attachment”

– Charlotte Brontë

What Harman’s biography explores, better than any other text about Charlotte’s life that I’ve encountered, is just what it promises to investigate in its title: Charlotte Brontë’s fiery and untamable heart. Charlotte jumps out of the pages of the book as a woman whose feelings cannot and will not be stifled, and despite her misgivings and her lack of confidence in her own charms, she is hopeful and she gives herself over to her love for Héger and her budding affection for Smith without reluctance. She may feel deep down that she can never win them and that she will never be worthy of love in their eyes (and even in her own), but like her most famous heroine Jane Eyre, she cannot control her emotions and she cannot stop herself from giving love, although she believes herself to be too plain to receive the same in return.

“‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.”

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

I have long adored Charlotte Brontë’s writing, and I have admired her as an artist. But after reading Harman’s biography, I can now say that I sympathize with her on a whole new level, as a woman. Charlotte Brontë is the young girl who is bullied in school because her hair is too curly or because she wears glasses or because her outfits just aren’t right. Charlotte Brontë is the teenage adolescent who fears that her high school crush will never like her back and who is pained every time she sees him flirting with the “popular” girls in her classes. Charlotte Brontë is the twenty-something woman who is single and terrified that she may never have a husband and a family, who watches make up tutorials every night on Youtube, who desperately tries to make herself look like the celebrities she follows on Instagram. Charlotte Brontë is all of us, she is each one of us in our most sensitive moments of self-doubt, and it is wonderful to behold that a woman so defiant and powerful in her fiction was not always so confident in real-life. It makes me, at least, reassured to think that a woman that I idolize and respect so greatly was not always so strong, that she too stumbled and had to find her way among the opinions and critical eyes of others.

And yet, Charlotte found her happiness, her marital bliss with Mr. Nicholls, her esteem and success as an author. She may not have thought herself much to look at, but now she is revered by millions of scholars and readers who feel a connection to her stories, her characters and, in perhaps a less obvious manner, to the very emotional woman that she was.

“‘I have at last my nameless bliss.

As I love—loved am I!’” – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë miniature

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

There’s Always Tomorrow – #JNGReads

Well, I’ve finally finished reading The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of short fiction and non-fiction by Yale graduate Marina Keegan. I can’t say that I absolutely loved it – I honestly don’t have too much to say about it, and no single story or essay really stuck with me or left me with a lasting impression. Although I think Keegan’s writing voice is nice and I am struck by the tragedy of her untimely death, I didn’t feel that the collection was special or unique or particularly powerful. Some of her commentaries were interesting, but I think they’re indicative of what a lot of twenty-something university/college graduates are thinking and discussing…and as someone in that category, I wasn’t overwhelmingly inspired by what she had to say. I agreed with many of her words, but I wasn’t blown away by them by any means.

I didn’t dislike the collection vehemently, though. I’m indifferent to it, and so I’ve struggled to figure out what exactly to say about it. I was able to pinpoint one specific quote that spoke to me in a way, however, so I thought that to use it as a #JNGReads quote would be a good way to talk about the book in a more coherent and significant way. Here is the quote that I chose:

“When I’m pregnant, I think, I’ll eat just boiled rice.” – The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

You’re probably wondering how this line is at all relevant to me because I am after all not pregnant. I’ll explain. The quote comes from one of Keegan’s essays about her struggles with celiac disease, and this was one work that I found interesting. I have a huge love-hate relationship with food: I love it when I’m eating it, and then I hate it immediately after I’m done most of the time. There are a lot of foods that make me feel sick and bloated and just not good, and yet I return to them over and over because I convince myself that they are delicious and it’s worth the feeling of discomfort to eat them again. So, basically I’m all over the place when it comes to my eating decisions and I’ve never been able to maintain a consistent diet.

Well, I’m currently writing this post in a bit of a groggy haze after drinking an iced vanilla latte. It turns out that I think I may be intolerant to caffeine because every single time I drink anything with the tiniest hint of caffeine, from coffee to tea to carbonated beverages, I feel anxious and nauseous, my hands start to shake and my heart starts to race. When I realized the correlation between caffeine and my jitters, I immediately stopped drinking tea every morning. But, for whatever reason, the appeal of sugary frappuccinos and lattes draws me back almost every weekend, especially when a friend asks me to meet up at the local Starbucks. I will admit that I regret ordering whatever drink I’ve justified is actually okay as soon as I finish drinking it.

So why do I even bother? Why don’t I stick to water or juice or something safe like that? I truly have no idea! But Keegan’s essay does help me figure myself out a little – in it Marina discusses how she often ignores her celiac disease in favour of eating whatever her stomach desires in the moment. She doesn’t consider the future implications, like stomach upset-ness or long-term risk for serious illness, and she’s extremely nonchalant about her food choices on a regular basis. She justifies all of this by telling herself that one day, when she’s pregnant and even the smallest amount of gluten in her system can seriously affect her unborn child, she will be better and smarter and more committed to taking care of herself.

And this is a sentiment I can really relate to. In the instances when I’m ordering my latte or frappuccino, I always somehow manage to tell myself that I will be better tomorrow, that tomorrow I will finally cut all caffeine out of my diet. But I never actually do – and so right now, I get to feel sick and nervous and generally not like myself!

Something has to change and the cycle has to stop somehow…because we really do only get one body and I don’t want to feel uncomfortable in mine! So, I’m taking a No Caffeine Pledge today, once and for all! If that’s the only thing I take from The Opposite of Loneliness, at least I’ll live a less jumpy life for it!

Cheers to you all (with a glass of water of course)!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Stir Crazy – #JNGReads

Good morning Dear Readers, and happy Sunday!

It is a very happy Sunday for me because tomorrow is a holiday in Canada, and so I get an extra long weekend and an extra bit of time to spend with family and curled up in my bed! 🙂

I’ve spoken about my job a little bit here on the blog before, but in today’s post I’d like to talk a bit more about how it feels to have a full-time career.

I work for a non-profit organization here in Toronto. We’re a national organization, so we have offices throughout Canada, and I’m so pleased to be able to primarily use my knowledge of the French language. I speak French every day at the office, and I write almost an equal amount of French and English emails! It’s honestly so fulfilling and exciting because I never thought I would get to use my French as much as I do in my career, but it turns out that the fact that I speak French was actually the reason I got my job in the first place! It’s nice to be exercising another one of my passions, one that kind of got left behind a little when I was doing my MA in English literature!

Having said all that, I’ve actually already had 3 positions at this organization – I’ve been promoted, my responsibilities have changed a few times, and now I’m kind of doing bits and pieces of all 3 different positions at once. But I absolutely love it because I thrive when I’m busy, when I’m running around trying to get items ticked off my To-Do List. And I adore being trusted with all of these tasks, especially because I respect my colleagues, and my boss in particular, very much.

So, basically, I’m quite happy at my job – I never really imagined myself in this sort of environment (I thought I would be on my way to becoming Professor J at this point), but I do feel like what I’m doing is good work, and it is so nice to have something substantial and maybe even a little impressive on my resume!

But, despite all this, there are times when I go a tad stir crazy! I’m sure this is entirely normal (and probably the main reason people are so excited to use their vacation days or on long weekends such as this one), but some days I just feel like I cannot sit at my desk for another second. This has been my first summer with a full-time job – normally I would’ve been off school from the months of May to August, and so I wouldn’t have had to wake up early or schedule time to see my friends and family. This summer has been a bit of an adjustment because I haven’t had as much free time to sit in the sun (which I’m actually getting so sick of because it’s grossly humid in Toronto – When is it going to be Christmas already?!), or to travel downtown to have lunches on patios with my girlfriends, or to spend days cuddled up in my boyfriend’s room. It’s not like I spend every day longing for relaxed summers past, because I’ll admit that a lot of the time I was bored and lethargic. But, it is difficult to acclimatize to a totally different sort of lifestyle, and while I enjoy going into work most days, I won’t pretend to be super excited by it every single day.

And this brings me to my #JNGReads selection for today:

“Know you’re my tether outside these walls.” – The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

This quote is from a collection of short stories and essays I started reading quite a while ago. I have mixed feelings about it (but more on that in a future blog post), and I’ve been finding it a little hard to feel motivated to finish it, but some of Marina Keegan’s works are pretty interesting, and this particular line struck me on a day when I was tired and weary from working and commuting long hours.

This quote reminds me that, although we may sometimes be stuck in positions and places that are a touch oppressive and burdensome, there are always people and things that act as tethers, as life sources outside our confining circumstances. For me, those people are my parents and brother, my boyfriend, and my close female friends who are all so willing to meet me for coffee on the weekends, to visit me during lunch hour, and to encourage me to head into the heart of the city for catch-up dinners! These people keep me sane: they listen to me stress about things I have to do at work, but they also take my mind off it! They remind me that although I have a job I’d like to be good at, it’s ultimately just something that I do – it’s not who I AM, it doesn’t define my character or my life. And that’s an important perspective to have!

So, even though part of me is dreading waking up early on Tuesday and dragging myself into the office, a bigger part of me is excited to enjoy this weekend with my loved ones, to rejuvenate for the week ahead, and to look forward to the fun and exciting occasions I can plan for myself with an incredible group of people, outside my working hours in the future!

Enjoy every last moment of your weekends Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart