The Dickensian Second Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #3

Hello and Happy Sunday!

Today, I’m feeling that it’s a Sunday. Recently, I haven’t been too depressed on Sundays and I haven’t dreaded Mondays all that much, but today I am definitely struggling with the idea of heading back to work already. Maybe it’s because last weekend was a long one, or because I didn’t have the chance to read as much as I would’ve liked to this weekend, but I just feel like the last two days sped by rapidly, and I wasn’t ever able to catch up. I can’t say I’m all that concerned about the summer coming to an end, what with the fact that I’m a Fall/Winter Girl through and through, but I still wish Monday morning didn’t creep up on me so quickly sometimes. Having said that, I’m back with another Weekly Round-Up to discuss just how much I accomplished this week. Here are the items I will be mentioning in today’s post…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

I’m currently about halfway through Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends With Us. I’ve been hearing a lot about how incredible Hoover is as a romance writer for the past few months, and when I finished my most recent read (more on this below) midway through this week, I decided it was high time for a lunch hour excursion to the Chapters near my work to pick up a novel that would mark my first foray into Hoover’s catalogue. I chose It Ends With Us because I had seen the best reviews for it on Goodreads, and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I caught wind of what the basic premise and main conflict of the novel is, so I’m positive that it is going to break my heart and destroy me, but so far I am intrigued and interested in watching the characters progress. I also really like the narrator, Lily Bloom, and am enjoying reading all about her floral shop and her interactions with her best friend Allysa. Having said that, I know the story is going to get deep and heavy, so I am emotionally preparing myself for that complete 180.

• Recently Finished •

Halfway through this week I finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. You can read my review of the novel here. For me, it was an average novel, mainly because I found it hard to connect to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman, and his scientific, logical, straightforward manner of speaking. I sped through it and I didn’t hate it by any means, but it’s not my absolute favourite novel that I’ve read recently.

• What’s Next •

This is tricky because I am still drowning under piles of books I have to read (not a bad thing whatsoever, mind you). This past week, however, I managed to score tickets to see one of my favourite authors of all time, John Irving, in conversation at my old university. He’ll be appearing there in early September, and while I’ve read many of his novels (The World According to Garp most recently, although A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favourite), I have been meaning to read his latest novel, Avenue of Mysteries, for a very long time. It is currently sitting on my bookshelf, so I absolutely will be picking that up before I see John Irving live (Eek, so excited!), either next up after I finish my current read, or in the very near future.

• Quote of the Week •

“It is my intention to astonish you all.” ~ Bathsheba Everdene

Last night, my fiancé and I sat down to watch a movie on Netflix, and I somehow managed to get him to agree to watch Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Carey Mulligan. He is a huge fan of Victorian film adaptations ever since meeting me, and he was more than willing to delve into this story because he generally likes period dramas. I had already seen the movie, but I find Bathsheba Everdene to be such a fascinating and conflicting character that I was eager to watch the film again. And, besides, Garbiel Oak is definitely a swoonworthy hero. What struck me most in my rewatch of this movie, though, is the fact that Bathsheba is such a modern and contemporary heroine. She is strong and defiant in the face of her male counterparts who try to shut her down, and she is quite progressive in her attempts to manage a farm herself. She refuses to allow men to tell her what she is and is not capable of, and although she makes a few blunders in the name of “love”, she has herself mostly figured out from a business perspective. She is also unfailingly confident, both in her abilities and her intelligence, and her dialogues are always pointed and sharp – she never gives her male interlocutors the upper hand. I personally like Bathsheba quite a lot, particularly when she proclaims the quote above, surrounded by the men that she will be the boss of on her newly inherited farm. She is a force to be reckoned with, as are the greatest female characters in film and literature.

• Song of the Week •

And on that same vein, my song choice for this week is “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme”, sung my Carey Mulligan in the Far From The Madding Crowd movie and on the soundtrack. It is such a simple Victorian ballad, but the lyrics are poignant in that they offer advice to women to guard their hearts and their heads. I know this is a bit of an archaic idea, but Mulligan sings the song so simply and I like that her voice is not classically trained, but fits the genre so well. It definitely whisked me back to Victorian times when I listened to it.

• Photo of the Week •

There is one photo that I am absolutely dying to post, but unfortunately, I can’t. It is probably the best photo of me ever, and I am standing with my back to the camera, wearing my wedding dress. It is just the most gorgeous photo (if I do say so myself) and all I want is to be able to show it to everyone. But, alas, my wedding is still just over 4 months away, so the time for my big reveal of my wedding dress hasn’t come yet.

In lieu of that particular photo, then, I have chosen this photo of my fiancé and I as my Photo of the Week. It is one of the photos from our engagement session, and I just love the joy and happiness that is clear on my face. I don’t think I’ve ever looked more excited or comfortable or at peace in a photo, and the man whose arms are wrapped around me has A LOT to do with that!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

To finish things off for this week… My wish is that tomorrow will be the least Monday-like Monday of all the Mondays. I’m hoping it feels more like the start of a new adventure than like the beginning of a daunting work week.

Good luck tomorrow everyone!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #2

Hello and Happy Monday!

It’s a holiday here in Toronto, so I decided to postpone my Weekly Round-Up until today to give you a full picture of what I accomplished this week. I’ll be following the same format I used last week, and this was an incredibly productive weekend where I was actually able to finish three books and write reviews of them. I was so happy with this and I really feel like my commitment to reading has picked up a lot this year! Last year, I struggled to balance working full-time, commuting, spending time with my fiancé (we were living apart) and reading in the evenings. My only reading time came during my lunch breaks and my evening bus rides. I was quite worried, when I moved in with my fiancé and started walking to work, that without an evening bus commute, I wouldn’t be reading very much at all. But, as it turns out, I’ve been spending more time than ever reading, and I’m actually zipping through books as quickly as I used to in school – this is all down to the fact that my fiancé and I have this amazing routine where we go to the gym right after work, make dinner and then spend the entire night (hours on hours) reading beside one another on our plush, gold couch with steaming teas. My fiancé is big on reading graphic novels, and he gets so excited about reading beside me and pausing to tell me bits and pieces of his stories, and this offers me so much time to delve into my own fictional worlds. I’m obsessed with this new routine of ours, and honestly, I get really grumpy and annoyed if anything at all happens to interrupt it!

Anywho, on to my more formal update for this week. Here is a reminder of the topics I will be discussing in today’s Weekly Round-Up…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’m about 20 pages into Graeme Simsion’s contemporary novel The Rosie Project. I’ve been taking this one slow, since I started it yesterday, because I spent a lot of time reading on Friday and Saturday, so I just want to slow down my reading a touch. Having said that, I don’t know how I feel about this novel just yet. I know I’m not very far into it at all, but I can already tell that I’m not really connecting to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman. I should say that I am not at all a fan of the show the Big Bang Theory, and I’ve heard Tillman being compared to the character Sheldon Cooper, so I am a bit wary of that. But, I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a long time, so I’m going to plug through it and give it a chance. Hopefully, it ends up surprising me!

• Recently Finished •

This past weekend, I finished three books in total, two of which I started and finished within a day. The three novels were Shooting Scars and Bold Tricks by Karina Halle and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. You can read my detailed reviews of them here and here.

• What’s Next •

That is a darn good question! I really have no idea what I’m going to read after finishing The Rosie Project, and this is NOT for lack of physical books around me. I have about 20 books sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be picked up. Some of them are standalone, contemporary novels. Others are massive fantasy series. I have no idea what my plan is, or when I’m going to get through all of these. I’m thinking, though, that after finishing The Rosie Project, I may read one more standalone novel, and then delve into the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. I think that will allow me to put a significant dent in my contemporary literature pile, but then get back into the fantasy realm that I’m missing a little bit. One thing I do know for sure is that I want to finish off the year reading a classic, and I’ve already decided that my December read will be Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So, if all goes according to plan, by the time I get married, I will be deep into Bleak House – I think that’s fitting considering I’m having a Victorian-inspired wedding!

• Quote of the Week •

This week’s quote comes from a song, rather than a work of literature. I’ve been listening to Sia’s song Helium nonstop for the last little while, and I absolutely love it! It reminds me so much of my relationship with my fiancé, and it is the song I always rush to put on at work whenever I’m feeling the least bit anxious or depressed.

“But even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman’s soul /

Help me out of this hell /

Your love lifts me up like helium.”

• Song of the Week •

Naturally, my song choice of the week is Sia’s Helium. Having said that, my fiancé and I recently signed up for a Spotify account, so that has made sooo much music available to us! This past weekend, we’ve been obsessed with listening to the soundtrack for the musical Hamilton, and I’m literally addicted to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius (okay, everyone knows this already, but I felt I should restate it), and if I had to select one favourite song from Hamilton, I’d go with Helpless because it is adorable and harkens back to all these incredible love songs from the 50’s. I LOVE it! Everyone needs to listen to this soundtrack! (I’m actually currently listening to it, as I write this, and My Shot is such a catchy song too – it is just way too difficult to pick a favourite!)

• Photo of the Week •

My favourite photo of this week is another one my fiancé took of me during our bookish photoshoot a couple of weeks ago. I originally thought this photo was too ridiculous to post and that it was a bit embarrassing, but after I put it on Instagram, so many people complimented me on it that I started to see it as cute and endearing. And really, my whole inspiration for it was to look like Eliza Doolittle, balancing books on her head in the hopes of becoming a dignified lady, as paradoxical as that may seem!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it will go by quickly. I have so many fun plans for next weekend already, including going to a Greek food festival downtown and celebrating my mom’s birthday, and I just can’t imagine sitting at my desk for hours and daydreaming about freedom. I’m also going out tonight with my fiancé and my dad – we’re heading downtown to see the WWE’s Monday Night RAW live. I am actually so excited about this because I LOVE wrestling and I grew up watching Monday Night RAW with my dad, so I cannot wait to be watching it live, in such a big venue (I’ve been to see WWE wrestling at a smaller venue in Oshawa, but this is Monday Night RAW we’re talking about)! Amidst all this excitement, and considering that my wedding is just over four months away, I really am over work – but I mean, aren’t we all, especially on long weekends? And all things considered, my job and work environment are pretty awesome…so maybe my weekly wish should be that I’ll feel inclined to complain less…???

Enjoy your Monday everyone! I know Mondays can be tricky days, but isn’t it nice to get a fresh start every week? Let’s all try to embrace it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #1

Hi Everyone and Happy Sunday!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my blog lately, and how frequently I post, and I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for posts that I can publish in between book reviews. As I mentioned recently, I’ve been reading a lot of series of books (such as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas and the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo) and I seem to feel more comfortable reviewing these series once I’ve finished all of the books in them. For that reason, I don’t have as many book reviews to post, as often, and I was beginning to get self-conscious about the fact that too much time was passing between my posts. I’ve also always intended for my blog to have lifestyle aspects as well, and it is a very personal endeavour for me, so I’ve been trying to come up with ways to update all of you lovely readers on both what I’m reading and what I’m up to on a regular basis.

For all these reasons, I think I’m going to introduce a new type of post to the blog: a Weekly Round-Up. This will be a good way for me to discuss what I’m reading, even if I’m not ready to post a formal review, as well as what other elements of pop culture I’ve been loving at the moment. Particularly with my wedding rapidly approaching (less than 5 months now!!!), I thought this would also be a great way to let you all know how planning is coming along and share some of the wedding-related excitement that I’m currently experiencing.

I came up with a general structure for these Weekly Round-Ups, but it absolutely will be subject to change depending on the week and the updates I want to share with all of you. I’ve had so many sources of inspiration for this sort of post from the multiple brilliant bookish blogs I’ve started following and avidly reading recently, but I’ve tried to tweak the format and content to something that will work for me personally and will fit with the theme of The World of my Green Heart. Generally, JNG’s Weekly Round-Up will include the following components…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

So, let’s get right into it then – here is my Weekly Round-Up for this week…

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’ve gone back to my romance loving roots, and I am so close to finishing the first novel in the Artists Trilogy by Karina Halle, Sins and Needles. I have to say, it is unlike any “romance” novel I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely sexy and intense, but what I appreciate is that there isn’t too much of a focus on the actual romance between the two main characters, Ellie and Camden. Although their budding relationship is certainly an important part of the plot, their relationship is also much more realistic in that they actually do things together, they face many obstacles and they do much more than lie in bed all day and talk about how much they love each other. Ellie and Camden are also two extremely badass characters, with complex and intricate backstories, and the fact that Camden is a tattoo artist just adds to the uniqueness of the entire story. And, sidenote, I really badly want a tattoo now…like REALLY badly! I’m definitely really excited to finish this first book and delve deeper into the series as a whole.

• Recently Finished •

Earlier this week, I finished the third and final novel in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. You can read my review of the series here, but I will repeat that I definitely did enjoy this series very much! While it wasn’t my favourite fantasy series that I’ve read this year, I was thoroughly impressed by the world building, the intricate detail of the powers of each of the Grisha, and I grew to love the characters, particularly Alina, as they grew and progressed from the first novel. It was a highly entertaining series and I would definitely recommend it – I think it would probably really suit an older young adult audience, especially students in grade 12 or entering university.

• What’s Next •

This section is easy this week because, as I said before, I’m planning to continue the Artists Trilogy and move onto the second novel in Karina Halle’s series as soon as I finish the first (which will definitely happen today).

• Quote of the Week •

This section will probably always prove to be a bit tricky for me because, when I’m reading a novel I’m thoroughly into, I tend to be moved by many passages and sentences throughout my reading experience. This week though, I think I’ll select a quote from my current read, Sins and Needles, because when I read it, I felt that it so expertly represented the intricacies of love, the intricacies of personalities, and the fact that loving someone means accepting all of the components of their identity and being, and loving each of them with an open mind and heart.

“‘Beautiful, sad, wounded, and lost…A freak, a work of art, a liar, and a lover.’” ~ Camden speaking of Ellie

• Song of the Week •

Okay, this is truly tricky because I am loving sooo much music at the moment! I’m specifically really into the band Haim, who I only discovered a few months ago but have become totally obsessed with. Their music is so different and unlike anything I’ve ever heard recently, and it calls back to the 80’s in so many fabulous ways. Their harmonies are also absolutely GORGEOUS, and their chemistry, considering that they are three sisters, is endearing. If I had to pick one of their songs as my favourite for this week, I’d have to go with their single Want You Back from their new album Something To Tell You. The music video for this song is extraordinary and I swear I watch it about 5 times a day – it’s like I’m addicted to it! The ladies of Haim are just so effortlessly cool and I want to be one of them – go YouTube this music video ASAP!

• Photo of the Week •

This week, I asked my wonderful fiancé to take a bunch of new photos of me, and because he’s such a great sport, he went all out and spent about an hour photographing me. I’ve seen so many adorable photos on Goodreads lately of readers with their most favourite books, and I desperately wanted a nice one of myself with my cherished fictional friends. So, here you have a photo of me with my favourite stories – I happen to think my fiancé did a wonderful job of capturing my bookish qualities!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it would be fall again. I have to be honest, I despise summer – it is too hot and sticky and I just can’t deal with the sun because it makes me itchy and grumpy. All I want is for it to be October or November or December, when the weather is cool but not unbearably frigid. And I’m sorry, but the environment looks so much more beautiful in the fall, when the trees are all colourful and the landscape is more rustic. Are these photos below not solid evidence of that?

There we are, my first Weekly Round-Up! I hope you enjoyed it…let me know what you think of this new (for me) post idea!

Have a lovely end to your weekends, Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

High Lady

High Lady

“Night Triumphant – and the Stars Eternal.” ~ A Court of Wings and Ruin Sometimes you get so obsessed with a book that it starts to slowly take over aspects of your entire life. Welcome to my world. These obsessions … Continue reading

My Literary Maidens

Apologies are in order…big time!

I am so so sorry that I have been MIA on the blog for almost a month. Trust me, I get it – this is no way to show my appreciation for all you lovely readers!

However, allow me to promise you that a giant, mammoth of a book review is on its way VERY soon. If you follow along with me on Goodreads, or if you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I’ve been buried deep in the world of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series for quite a while now. That’s the reason for my lack of posts – I’ve been so enthralled with my reading, so eager to delve into my book and not put it down for the entire night, that I haven’t actually had anything else to review (although I know this is no excuse, considering I could’ve offered you some lifestyle posts in the meantime – massive apologies again!). I even chose to skip right past writing a review for the second novel in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury, because I just wanted to blaze right into the third book instead. And, I did exactly that – I am about two hundred pages away from completing A Court of Wings and Ruin, and my heart is already breaking at the thought. I have so enjoyed living in this world, with Feyre and all of her friends, and I simply do not want it to end. Hence why I have been reading extremely slooowly, savoring every last sentence and image and adventure.

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time – and I swear, a book review of the entire ACOTAR series is on its way.

Having said that, when I realized a few days ago that I haven’t posted anything here in almost a month, I was horrified! I knew I had to get something out to you, and I also knew that I needed to exercise my writing muscles again, lest they get out of practice. So, on to a bit of a different topic… Here is another wedding-related post for you all…

“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”

~ Pygmalion

Left to right: Lady Camille, JNG, Lady Courtney and Lady Kailah ❥

I count myself well and truly lucky to have some of the most wonderful friends a girl could ask for. My three best friends, my maidens, my bridesmaids, are among the most inspiring, beautiful and kind women I have ever known, and not only are they a constant source of pride for me, they also treat me with this unwavering respect and love. At times it is overwhelming to fully comprehend how loyal and dedicated they are to me and to our friendships, and they have each been the most incredible helpers throughout my wedding planning experience so far. To borrow from the idea presented in the quote above, my bridesmaids treat me like an absolute queen and make me feel so remarkably special, and I will forever be grateful for that. I cannot wait to return the favour at each of their own weddings! (Note: You can read a detailed post introducing and describing each one of my bridesmaids here.)

Not a single thing in the world could persuade me to change the three women I selected as my bridesmaids because they are the most perfect women that ever walked the planet. Having said that, there is one thing that could persuade me to increase their number – to add a few more ladies to my maiden fold – and that would be if my three favourite females from literature could jump out of the pages of their individual works and become real-life women. I recently found myself thinking about this, wondering which three heroines I would select to join myself and my bridesmaids in all of the wedding planning and events. And, there was absolutely no question – three literary heroines popped into my mind without hesitation, and I truly believe each of these women would fit in so well with my three best friends because they are all quite alike. I like to think I keep very good company, and I believe that even these women of the fictional world would adore my real-life bridesmaids instantly, and vice versa.

~ So, here we have it, my selections for My Literary Maidens (in no particular order, of course). ~

Jane Eyre

“Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged love in his whole look and mien—I forgave him all…”

Was there any doubt that Jane Eyre was going to be on this list? Well, there shouldn’t have been. Jane Eyre is the one literary character that I will always owe so much of my personality, my morals and my convictions to. If I wasn’t such a chicken, I’d already have this Charlotte Brontë inspired tattoo on my skin that I’ve been dreaming up for years now, because that authoress is someone I will forever be indebted to. Jane Eyre, and the novel named after her, taught me so much about love, about soul mates, and about sacrifice. She presented a strong and dignified example to me at the most critical time in my life, when I was just leaving high school, and her story emphasized to me that it is possible to find an all-encompassing love that consumes but does not overcome you. Jane Eyre taught me that love is not an easy road, that there are countless obstacles on the way to finding it and also within a relationship, but that True Love means forgiveness, it means being strong enough to stand up for your love, to fight for it. To have Jane Eyre stand beside me on my wedding day would mean having a true role model in my midst, it would mean acknowledging that fortitude is an aspect of True Love that I will always apply in my own life.

Clare Abshire

“I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?”

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel that I also read when I was finishing up high school, and it is without doubt on par with Jane Eyre in my green heart. Clare Abshire is a source of undeniable inspiration in that novel, if only because she is constantly waiting for her love (time traveler, Henry DeTamble) to come home to her. Clare puts up with a lot of turmoil and tragedy in her relationship with Henry, and she faces every obstacle with unfailing resolve and impenetrable will. She is the very definition of a strong woman, and she has always been a model for me of how to overcome jealousy, uncertainty and insecurity. Clare is so confident in Henry’s love for her that she doesn’t let the little things, like ex-girlfriends in his life, or even the big things, like his regular absence, to get to her. She has a lot to face and get through in loving Henry, but she tackles each situation with a calm that is utterly remarkable. Clare Abshire taught me that love means being patient, it means waiting for The One and then hanging onto him through thick and thin, being his rock, his anchor. To have Clare Abshire stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love really can conquer all, and that the right love will survive all obstacles of time and distance.

Eliza Doolittle

“Aha! Now I know how to deal with you. What a fool I was not to think of it before! You can’t take away the knowledge you gave me….Oh, when I think of myself crawling under your feet and being trampled on and called names, when all the time I had only to lift up my finger to be as good as you, I could just kick myself.”

I admit, it was a bit trickier for me to come up with my third literary bridesmaid…but only for about two seconds. Then, it dawned on me, what better bridesmaid to have than the original flower girl, Eliza Doolittle of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Eliza isn’t your classic romantic heroine whatsoever, and that’s what makes her a character that taught me so very much about love and relationships. I read Pygmalion for the first time after starting university, but I’ve been a fan of My Fair Lady since I was something like 6 years old, so Eliza Doolittle has always been a mentor to me. And what a remarkable and unique woman she is – Eliza Doolittle is a woman who does not stand down, who is not flattened or trampled on by any of the men around her. Although she is fond of her professor Henry Higgins, she refuses to have her personality muddled or diluted by him, and she is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Her main objective throughout the entire play is to better herself, to lift herself up in society, and while her pseudo-partner Higgins assists her on her journey and gives her the tools to be a better version of herself, she is the one who gets down and dirty, who battles every day with society’s expectations and uses her indomitable will and strength to get ahead and make a name for herself. Eliza Doolittle is one of the strongest female characters that exists in literature, and that comes from her defiance of societal norms and her desire to question and interrogate the social structures around her. To have Eliza Doolittle stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love does NOT mean losing your identity or becoming a mere domestic goddess. It would mean acknowledging that being a woman in love, being a wife, does NOT mean giving up on your dreams or stifling your passions. It would mean proclaiming that the right husband, the right partner, will give you wings to fly and build your own name, for yourself.

With friends like these, how could a girl go wrong? My three real-life best friends and my three fictional ones are the pillars of my personality, the puzzle pieces that go together perfectly to make me into the woman I am today, the one that my fiancé fell in love with. Without each of them, I would be nowhere close to who I am at this moment, and I am so honoured that each of them will play a part in my Big Day…because believe me, I plan to make Jane and Clare and Eliza a real presence on my wedding day, even if they can’t be there in person…so stay tuned for posts about that in the future!

See you all again very soon, I promise!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Miss You – #JNGReads …and JNG Lives

Miss You by Kate Eberlen is a novel I am finding it very difficult to review, for several reasons.  The first is that I believe the novel is incorrectly branded, and this necessarily lowered my overall rating of the novel.  Due largely to the blurb on the back of the book, as well as the quotes included on it from other authors (such as one from one of my favourite chick lit. writers, Sophie Kinsella), I had certain expectations when I purchased Eberlen’s story, and, to be perfectly honest, it met none of them.  This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but I do feel that it is slightly dishonest to promote a story as a romance when in fact it features very few romantic elements.  If Miss You were instead labelled a family drama or a coming-of-age story, I think readers of it would have a better sense of what is to come in their reading journey and experience, and this would’ve definitely improved my review, if only because I would’ve modified my expectations to the genre.  In any case, there was one particular aspect of the story that touched me profoundly, and so I increased my overall rating as a result of that element – but more on that in a moment…

To go back to my first point, my main criticism of the novel… Why do I feel that Miss You is not a romance?  Well, because it isn’t.  I don’t think many readers would disagree with this assessment.  It is compared to David Nicholls’ One Day, a novel that Eberlen actually mentions in her own, and yet, while One Day focuses almost entirely on the romance between its main characters, Dex and Emma, using their individual life experiences to further their romantic relationship in some places and simultaneously indicate to the reader why they are perfect for each other, Miss You focuses most of its attention on the individual lives and tragedies and struggles of Tess and Gus, but very rarely exposes why they would be romantically compatible.  Although Tess and Gus are often in the same place at the same time and do indeed miss each other on multiple occasions, there is no reason to believe that they are meant to be together romantically.  They didn’t even seem to have very similar interests, in my opinion – Gus is a doctor, with a passion for cooking and art, and Tess is a pseudo-English literature student and aspiring writer.  Certainly, they both enjoy culture and adore London life, but their interests and hobbies are not exactly identical.  This is not to say that people need to have the same talents and ambitions to be romantically involved, obviously, but in most cases, I found it very difficult to even recognize that they were missing each other because attention wasn’t always drawn to the fact that they were in the same place.  If the novel is supposed to be about two people constantly missing each other, I think more emphasis should’ve been placed on those moments throughout the novel, rather than summarizing them neatly at the end, as Eberlen chooses to do.  The one aspect of Tess and Gus’ lives that is similar is that they both deal with the loss of a close loved one, and I did get the sense that they could’ve greatly aided each other in the grieving process.  Having said that, did I feel like Tess and Gus were soul mates?  Definitely not, and although they did miss each other frequently, I never really felt frustrated by that fact because their lives seemed wholly separate and barely intertwined anyway.

Despite the fact that there was hardly anything romantic about Miss You, as I said before, there was one element of Tess’s life specifically that totally absorbed my attention.  Much of Tess’s life centers on her mother’s battle with breast and ovarian cancer and the weight these diseases represent in Tess’s own life.  At a certain point in the novel, Tess gets information about the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutations that drastically increase a woman’s risk of acquiring breast and ovarian cancer, and many chapters explore Tess’s fear and anxiety with regards to cancer and her chances of battling it within her lifetime.

This is a topic that is very close to my own heart and which caused me to have a highly emotional and visceral response to Tess’s story in Miss You.  My maternal grandmother suffered from breast and ovarian cancer and passed away at the relatively young age of 57 because of her struggles with the disease.  My mother and I have consequently been involved for many years in screening programs at one of the most reputable hospitals in Toronto, and a few years ago, my mother was approached to have genetic testing done to see if she carried one of the BRCA mutations.  It turns out that she tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation, which increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer to astonishing and terrifying degrees.  She opted, with the knowledge and understanding of her mother’s battle with cancer, to have a hysterectomy and a prophylactic mastectomy.  Although she did not have breast or ovarian cancer, she chose to electively have the surgeries as preventative measures (in much the same way as Angelina Jolie did years ago, in case any of you are familiar with that story), and I am so proud and happy that she did because it was one of my greatest fears that I would have to watch my mother go through such a horrible battle with such an awful disease.

Now, I am in Tess’s position in that I myself have a 50% chance of carrying the BRCA 1 mutation.  Since I am still very young when it comes to breast and ovarian cancer, I have decided to hold off on genetic testing because, at this time, I could not have any of the preventative surgeries and my screenings would not change at all.  However, I know that one day I will have to be tested and, since I am a glass half empty sort of person, I have convinced myself that I am positive.  What most touched me about Tess’s experience with the BRCA mutations, though, was the moment in the novel when she receives her own genetic testing results.  Without giving too much away, Tess does think about being positive and tries to mentally prepare herself for that result, but she also discusses the fact that she doesn’t feel she could ever be fully prepared to hear that she is positive for a genetic mutation of this magnitude.  That led me to believe that, although I tell myself every single day that I am positive, I will never feel the impetus to deal with that outcome until I hear it confirmed from a doctor’s mouth.  That was an interesting personal revelation for me.  Tess’s honesty and her forthright narration of her fears and uncertainties felt so similar to my own, that I became convinced that Eberlen must’ve faced genetic testing herself or is at least very close to someone who has.  Eberlen’s treatment of cancer and its implications is touching and detailed, but also sensitive and respectful, and I don’t think I will ever forget reading Miss You because of it.

As I said, for all of the reasons I discuss above, it is very hard for me to rate Miss You.  It didn’t deliver what I expected at all, and yet in some ways, it offered so much more.  Although I wasn’t drawn into Tess and Gus’ romantic endeavors, I was touched by their individual family lives, and so I would recommend Miss You as a novel about family love, rather than love of the romantic variety.  And, for any women who have encountered breast and/or ovarian cancer in their lives, I HIGHLY recommend it!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Tale as Old as Time – #JNGWatches

“It’s my favourite part because, you’ll see,

here’s where she meets Prince Charming

~ but she won’t discover that it’s him ‘til chapter three.”

~ Belle

If you’re a longtime follower of this little blog, you already know how fond I am of stories, how invested and engrossed I get in the tales of fictional characters.  I’ve raved about Jane Eyre and her dashing Mr. Rochester, I’ve gushed over the more modern romance between Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, and I’ve even obsessed over a piece of chick lit. every once and a awhile as well.  I am the type of person who wears my literature loving heart on my sleeve (in all its green glory), and I’ve ranted about other forms of pop culture as well, such as my adoration for musicals like The Phantom of the Opera and plays like Angels in America.  And, I’ve mentioned on countless occasions, that one particular film, from the earliest days of my childhood, touched me on a profound level when I was only a little girl.

~ Beauty and the Beast ~

Arguably Disney’s greatest movie.  It officially came out in November 1991, the very month and year I was born, and so there’s no denying that Belle and I were born around the same time, and may in fact (at least in my mind) be one and the same person.  Now, naturally, I’m somewhat delusional when it comes to fiction, making it such a huge driving force in my life, allowing it to inform many of my decisions over the years, like the courses I studied in university, and the friends I’ve chosen to surround myself with, and the man I’ve decided to marry.  But no piece of fiction has been with me as long as Beauty and the Beast, and I feel strongly that it is responsible for many of the aspects of my personality that I hold so dear.  There’s no doubt that the movies and books we encounter as young children have the ability to shape our thoughts and mold our future, and I was such a young girl when I first watched Belle’s story.  Is it any wonder, then, that I went on to develop a passion for the French language and for novels and the written word?  Growing up in a small town just east of Toronto was also significant, because I identified on so many levels with Belle’s desire to escape her “provincial life”, the “little town” in which she was born and raised.  Is it any wonder, then, that I chose to go off to the big city, to downtown Toronto, for university, and that I have decided to make this very city the home of my adulthood?  Belle, although to many people no more than a cartoon princess, was my soul mate as a child, my role model, and so very much of who I have become is owed to her.

So, imagine my jealousy when I heard that Beauty and the Beast was being remade, as a live action film, and that Emma Watson was taking my rightful role of Belle.  I’m kidding, of course – I was unbearably excited as soon as I learned that my beloved B&B was getting an update, and although I wasn’t sure how I felt about any of the casting, I was eager to give the film the chance it deserved.  I went in with an open-mind (which was surprising to everyone who knows my intense love for the original), and I immediately bought my tickets to see the movie this past Saturday, the day after opening night.

Well, as much as I would’ve loved to be able to critique something about the film and maybe present a bit of a more dignified review, I can’t – the film was nothing short of PERFECT!  I was in tears several times throughout the movie, and every tiny detail of it took my breath away.  This is going to be another rave-y post because I can’t gush about this movie enough.  I was tempted to pay for another ticket and watch it from the beginning again within minutes of it finishing, and if it wasn’t sold out, I probably would have.

I saw the movie with my fiancé, mother and father, all of whom are consciously aware of just how important this story is to me.  The most surprising thing is that all three of them absolutely loved the movie too!  I was expecting my mom to adore it because she has always been just as obsessed with the original as I am, but I was not anticipating just how excited my dad and SS would be about it.  They’re both eager to see the movie again and SS was singing lines from the various songs throughout the rest of the weekend.  He makes a pretty convincing Gaston, I must say!

The movie is touching – that is probably the best word to describe it.  So much of it just took my breath away, from the incredible and jaw-dropping sets to the gorgeous costumes.  I was extremely skeptical about the CGI and hoping that the Beast wouldn’t look too cartoon-y and ridiculous, and in the end I was so impressed with how realistic he looked.  His facial expressions were exact and I had no problem believing that he was actually real.  And of course, my favourite enchanted objects looked exquisite, as usual, and I was quite fond of the reboot and makeover they each got.

The music was just as incredible as in the original, and I was blown away by the musical numbers, particularly the performance of the song “Gaston”.  Was I expecting Luke Evans to be able to sing?  No.  Was I thoroughly impressed with him, on all accounts, but particularly during his  musical number?  Absolutely!  Luke Evans was by far the breakout star of the entire movie for me (probably because I have always had a soft spot for the villain!), and his dancing and singing was absolutely perfect!  This specific scene was easily the most fun of the entire movie, and Evans oozed this confidence that was exactly what the role needed.  He was my favourite part of the whole movie, no question!

From the time my mom and I met Gaston at Disney World!

Credit must be given to the other superb actors though.  Ewan McGregor was hilarious as Lumière, and he performed “Be Our Guest” flawlessly.  Ian McKellan was the dream Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson was the quintessential Mrs. Potts – she also performed the title song with grace and skill.  Emma Watson was, I must admit, a pretty great Belle, and while that character is very dear to me and it is hard for me to say this, I think she was very well cast and did a good job channeling Belle’s goodness and charm.

“How do you feel about growing a beard?” ~ Belle to Prince Adam

(Easily the most adorable and funny line of the whole film, and definitely my favourite!)

The greatest surprise for me, though, was Dan Stevens as the Beast.  I haven’t seen Stevens in any other roles (although SS tells me he’s remarkable in the TV show Legion) and so I had no expectations of him – but, he truly blew me away!  One of the many minor additions to the original is a solo song for the Beast called “Evermore”, which I found so endearing and moving.  Stevens brilliantly acted it and his singing was just great, and I found that particular scene to be so essential to the story because it really added a human quality to the Beast’s character.  There was no doubt, after that scene, that he had truly become a prince on the inside, where it counts.

“I am not a beast.” ~ Adam (aka the Beast)

I’d also like to briefly touch on the controversy surrounding some aspects of the film.  There’s no need to go into too much detail because I don’t want to bring any negativity to this review or give any credibility to this criticism, and I honestly haven’t read too much up on it because the headlines alone frustrated me.  Anyone who’s being critical of the fact that the film does include references to homosexuality is being totally ridiculous, in my opinion.  The film is beautiful, it stays true to its strong message of loving people for who they are on the inside, and it presents powerful role models to young children, particularly young girls.  By including some subtle references to homosexuality, I feel that the filmmakers only made the story more inclusive and more representative of our society, and I think that is simply wonderful!  There is at least one character in this film that everyone can attach to and be inspired by, and I think that is exactly how Disney stories need to be updated and brought into the 21st century.  For anyone who criticizes the film for these sorts of things, I would encourage them to actually see it with an open mind and an open heart, because they may actually learn a thing or two about love and kindness.

Beauty and the Beast deserves 5-stars, if you ask me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!  There is something for literally everyone to enjoy and I am so happy to say that it did the original so very proud!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart