So Near The Horizon ~ #JNGReads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Chat Love – #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart