The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ~ #JNGReads

This is destined to be a year of reading disappointments.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is a book I sooo wanted to give 5 stars to and that I have been very eager to read for months. I actually went to Chapters and picked it up a few weeks ago because I had read so many glowing and sparkling reviews of it and simply had to get my hands on the novel. I put it on the top of my End of 2017 To-Read List, and when I finally started it last Saturday, I had in my mind that it was going to become a new favourite.

It did not, however…far from it, actually. I should clarify that I did NOT hate this novel by any standards and it absolutely wasn’t the worst book I read this year. It did some things remarkably well (I’ll get to this in a moment), and aspects of it genuinely made me laugh and smile. That being said, it was not at all as special as I was expecting it to be, particularly because of all the radiant things my fellow readers have said about it on Goodreads. I was expecting to fall passionately in love with the characters… I did not. I was expecting to be on the edge of my seat as I went on this breathtaking adventure… I was not. I was expecting to have my beliefs and morals shaken to the core… They were not. While Lee writes a book that is clearly very groundbreaking and unique in some ways, it is also utterly stereotypical and common in others. For these reasons, I never found myself fully getting into the story, and I almost dreaded reading it at times because I couldn’t get excited about any aspect of the tale. This was sincerely disappointing to me.

I think where The Gentleman’s Guide failed for me was in terms of the plot. If the characters were not so different and incredible (again, I’ll get to this in a moment), I would’ve rated the book 2 stars for the weak and overdone plot alone. I understand that the main character, Monty, and his friend Percy and sister Felicity are meant to be going on this Grand Tour of Europe, but I felt that the plot was made overly complicated for no apparent reason, and too many archetypes and stereotypes were thrown in to make the story feel like a standard adventure novel. Nothing about the overall adventure plot surprised me whatsoever because everything that occurred was something that I had already seen in this sort of novel before. I feel like, if you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe, you’ve sort of got this idea of what an adventure narrative looks like, and when subtle twists on the same narrative structure are executed, they fail to amuse or engage. For example, was I surprised when Monty, Percy and Felicity ended up being separated from their chaperone and had to live a vagabond life for some time? Nope, because almost every rich character who goes on an adventure is forced to beg and live in impoverished conditions for a time. Was I surprised when it turns out that the only supposed friends Monty, Percy and Felicity find are somewhat villainous? Nope, because every adventure novel will do that sort of 180 on a reader and try to take them by surprise when revealing the true villain of the story. Was I at all intrigued when Monty, Percy and Felicity were attacked and kidnapped by pirates? Definitely not, because I literally read almost the exact same thing a few months ago in Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm. The pirate, turned privateer, turned friend and ally is NOT a new concept. I guess that’s my whole point: nothing about Lee’s story seemed new or fresh, and I have read adventure novels that were executed far better, even just recently. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is a good example, because I feel like Alina and Mal went on almost exactly the same adventure, only in a much more intriguing and exciting manner!

I feel that The Gentleman’s Guide tried too hard to be the quintessential adventure, and so it failed miserably, because it was overladen with tropes and never fully became a unique story in its own right. That is, of course, just my opinion though.

What The Gentleman’s Guide does remarkably well, however, is create realistic and groundbreaking characters. I have to admit right away that I really did NOT like Monty whatsoever. I thought he was an annoying narrator, a frustrating character in general, and that he was too focused on whining and being helpless to actually accomplish anything. Honestly, if it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, I probably would’ve thrown this book at the wall for all Monty’s immature and idiotic behaviour. Having said that, Percy and Felicity more than made up for how much I disliked Monty. Percy is everything Monty is not: mature, poised, resilient and strong. He was the sort of role model that I believe all boys need when growing up, and Lee’s decision to make her characters extremely diverse, in terms of race and sexual orientation, was a very wise one because it made me so eager to root for Percy and so interested in learning more about his character. Percy, in my opinion, is the beacon of The Gentleman’s Guide; his relationship with Monty made me actually soften towards Monty a little (even though I thought the entire time that Percy could do waaay better, and still do think that!). Felicity is another character that truly blew me away. She is this fiercely intelligent young woman of 15 years old, and she is totally unstoppable! She is desperate to have an education, she is constantly reading, but she is also cunning and brave and she saves Monty more times than he would probably care to admit. I believe that Felicity is a fabulous figure for young girls to look up to because she proves that women have just as much power and strength as men. I wish that more of The Gentleman’s Guide focused on Felicity and her growth and development as a character, because it grated on my nerves to read Monty criticizing her when it was so clear that she was much more adept and skilled than him in almost every manner. If it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, honestly, and for the skillful portrayal of diverse characters, it would’ve been a lot harder for me to get through this novel.

For me, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue deserves an average rating. If I were basing my rating just on the stereotypical plot and the frustrating narrator, it would get 2 stars (if that) from me…but for Percy and Felicity, who I truly enjoyed reading about, I’ll award 1 extra star.

As I mentioned previously, though, this novel has very radiant reviews from almost everyone else who has read it…so I am most definitely in the minority here. And, I do encourage readers to pick up this book, if only to get to know Percy and Felicity. So, a bit of a mixed review from me, but overall, I would recommend it as a character study, if not as a daring and exciting adventure tale!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Advertisements

The Ambitious, But Not Impossible Reading Plan…

Hello again dear Readers!

I’m actually here, doing an update on a Sunday…go figure!

Today marks the first day of October and the start of the best time of year! In my opinion, the stretch from the beginning of October to the end of December is the loveliest time because of the perfect, crisp Fall weather and the anticipation of Christmas and the New Year. As you all know already, this Christmas is going to be particularly exciting for me, and so I am already counting down the days until 2017 wraps up.

With that being said, I was recently thinking about how I want to end my reading year. How many more books do I hope to finish before 2017 is up? Which book do I want to be reading the week before my wedding? Do I have time to finish another series before then? This all led me to make a list of the books I currently own and hope to have read by the time January rolls around. This is somewhat ambitious because last minute wedding planning is ramping up, but I am confident that I can at least get most of this list done.

What do you think – can I do it? Are there any books you would recommend I swap into this list?

The Books I Want To Finish Before January:

(in the order that I would like to read them)

  1. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  2. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  4. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
  5. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  6. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
  7. Jane Eyre by (the queen) Charlotte Brontë

Notes:

If I can manage to finish all 7 of these books before the end of 2017, that will bring me to a grand total of 52 finished books for the year… MUCH higher than my Goodreads goal of 18 books which in hindsight was very low. (I’m thinking of setting a goal of 52 books for next year, but we’ll see how that goes!)

As you can probably tell, I’m going for a Jane Eyre theme leading up to my wedding. I definitely want to be rereading Jane Eyre right before I get married (I’ll explain why closer to the date), and I thought it would be cool to lead up to this reread with some newer adaptations of my most beloved story.

So, here we go – let’s finish off 2017 with a bang!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Broken Prince & Twisted Palace ~ #JNGReads

This, my friends, is what a cash grab looks like…and it ain’t pretty!

I just finished The Royals series, the first of which I read and reviewed about two weeks ago. For whatever reason, Paper Princess left me so riled up and intrigued that I felt compelled to put aside my ginormous To-Read List to get e-book versions of the next two books in The Royals series and finish them immediately. I’m not going to say that I regret doing that, but I certainly wish the series didn’t go as rapidly downhill as it did, specifically once I reached the third book.

I don’t have much to say about the second book in The Royals series, Broken Prince, other than that I REALLY enjoyed it. I’m not ashamed of this whatsoever – it was the exact story I normally like, with the two main characters angry and resisting one another, only to realize that they are better together than apart. Classic cornerstones of the romance genre right there, and I admit that I’m fond of them. I blasted through Broken Prince and I was eager and excited to read it each day; if life and obligations hadn’t gotten in the way, I’m confident I could’ve finished this book in one sitting because it was just that addictive and exciting. I appreciated that we were finally given Reed’s perspective too, and I liked Ella’s feisty character just as much as I did in Paper Princess. If anything, I enjoyed Broken Prince more than Paper Princess because it seemed less far-fetched and farcical and focused more on the emotions Ella and Reed were feeling rather than on outlandish hijinks at their high school, Astor Park Prep. It felt more like a realistic, every day romance than like a soap opera, and I preferred that.

Twisted Palace was all soap opera, though, and that is why I feel that it failed, not only as a conclusion to the series but also as a romance novel in general. When I say it was a soap opera, I don’t mean in the way Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries sometimes was – I mean full-scale, Young and the Restless level, character coming back from the dead soap opera. And I found it…ANNOYING. That’s the best word I can use to describe Twisted Palace – it annoyed me how over the top and ridiculous it all was. I have more to say about this novel because it made me so frustrated, but I’m going to try to resist ranting. What I will do is list some of the things that I found disappointing and ultimately unsuccessful about Twisted Palace

*WARNING: There are SPOILERS ahead!*

1) All of the DRAMA! The plot was absolutely FULL of conflict and drama, and although obviously there needs to be a main conflict in any story, Twisted Palace had so many that the plot actually felt bogged down and absurd. Reed being charged with his father’s girlfriend’s murder…okay, that seems a bit crazy, but I’ll go with it because the book is after all a work of fiction and escapism. Ella’s biological father coming back from the dead…okay, this is starting to seem more ludicrous. Ella’s biological father turning out to be the real murderer and gratuitously mentioning that he was having an affair with Reed’s mother and led her to commit suicide…COME ON!!! What on Earth? That’s how you want to end this series? I knew I would have to ignore some plot holes and accept some completely outlandish storylines, but this was just too much. As I finished the novel late last night, I just felt utterly disappointed that the authors (Erin Watt is the pseudonym for two romance authors working together) would choose to insert all these “twists” at the end for no apparent reason and simply to seem smart. It wasn’t smart…if anything, I felt like it insulted my intelligence a little.

2) The LAME sex scenes! When you’re reading a romance novel, you expect it to be steamy, and Paper Princess and Broken Prince were. At times, they were a touch over the top, but I’m used to that sort of thing, having read a large number of romance novels in my time. Twisted Palace was NOT steamy whatsoever – case in point is how lukewarm the scene of Ella and Reed having sex for the first time was. You do not build up that sort of interaction for 2 and a half whole books only for it to finally come across as blander than a pack of saltines. There was no chemistry between Reed and Ella (not only in this scene, but I’d argue in Twisted Palace in general), the descriptions were sparse and verged toward summary, and every action was an enormous stereotype. My grandmother could’ve written these scenes better! Colour me disappointed, but I was left totally shocked and seriously annoyed!

3) How Reed narrates Ella! In Broken Prince, I liked Reed’s perspective and narration quite a lot…in Twisted Palace, not so much. I felt that Reed infantilized and belittled Ella a lot in his narration in this third installment, not least because he kept freaking calling her “my girl” which grated on my nerves! Ella’s dialogue also comes across as insipid and juvenile when Reed is narrating, and it pained me to see such a strong and unique female character becoming a stereotype in the eyes of the male lead. Ella was whiny and girly and too innocent and naïve, but she was only those things when Reed was narrating, and this gave me a really bad taste in my mouth. It seemed like the authors were suggesting that Reed sees Ella as this prissy girly-girly even though we know (especially from the first book) that she is not that way at all. Whether this was intentional or not, it was poorly done and ill advised!

4) The CASH GRAB feel! I’m sorry, but it feels like Twisted Palace was written to take advantage of the popularity of The Royals series, and for no other purpose than to exploit the fans that liked Ella and Reed so much. There is nothing I hate more than feeling like a story is being made into a series for the sake of it – and that is exactly what I saw happening here. There was absolutely NO need to extend Ella and Reed’s story to 3 books, especially if the third one was going to be such garbage. It felt very much like the authors were just throwing together as many tropes and stereotypes as they could to get a third book completed. There was no passion that I could sense in it whatsoever, and the writing was very lazy. The plot, as I mentioned, was so outlandish that it seemed like the story had run its logical course and the authors were trying to finish a novel that should never have been started. This was what frustrated me most – don’t waste my time with stories that are half-heartedly conceptualized and written because that will only leave me with absolutely NO urge to pick up any of your other books in the future!

I’m glad to be done with The Royals series, and it makes me sad to say that because I was so enjoying it right up until about a quarter of the way through the third book. At that point, though, things started to fall apart very quickly.

I would recommend that readers give Paper Princess and Broken Prince a shot and then stop there. They will get very little enjoyment from Twisted Palace anyway.

Paper Princess ~ ❥❥❥.5

Broken Prince ~ ❥❥❥❥

Twisted Palace ~ ❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Beyond Representation

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But, it isn’t worth a thousand feelings.

Yesterday was my bridal shower. Today I’m feeling melancholy, which is a sentiment I’ve very used to after big events. When I was a child, I used to cry after weddings or birthdays because I was so distraught over the thought that this huge occasion that I spent so much time looking forward to was over. I have that same feeling today. I didn’t plan any aspect of the shower – my amazing parents and my incredible Man of Honour, my brother, took care of everything – but I knew that it was going to be an awesome day, and although I tried my very hardest to soak up every single moment, today I’m left with the sensation that it passed me by too quickly. I know the wedding (less than 3 months away now!) will pass in much the same way and the thought terrifies me. I’m trying to figure out ways to really focus on how I feel in my dress, on how wonderful it is to have my best friends and closest family around me, on how remarkable it is that such a good and kind man has chosen to make me his wife…but I already know that so many of the little moments will go unnoticed.

I just wish a photo could capture a feeling, or transport you back in time. I have no doubt whatsoever that our talented wedding photographer is going to get some perfect snaps of the day and each special moment, but when I look at those photos months or even years later, won’t my memory of the moment still be hazy? Will I ever be able to get the exact feelings back? Probably not. I know this because yesterday, I tried so hard to take one photo that would capture exactly how excited and loved and supported I felt on my bridal shower day, and all I got was this…

Although it’s an okay photo and reflects the room where we had afternoon tea, at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, quite well, it still doesn’t capture my overwhelming emotions. At the moment when I took the photo, I was alone in the high tea room, music from the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack playing around me, and I was just quietly reflecting on the fact that so many people loved me enough to celebrate my upcoming wedding with me…and also that one man loved me enough to want to give me this absolute dream life. And yet, when I look at this photo now, it just seems so inadequate. It shows a very happy girl in a beautiful place…but it can never show just how happy she is or how beautiful her life has become.

What’s worse is that this is the only photo I took the entire day. Of course, my bridesmaids took some wonderful photos and my family members and friends are excitedly posting photos on social media, but none of them are photos seen through my eyes. None of them reflect what I was thinking or feeling in that moment, and no photo is really powerful enough to do that anyway.

As I wrote in my Instagram post when I uploaded my lone bridal shower photo, the emotions I felt yesterday are beyond representation. The love I feel for my family members, my best friends and my fiancé is too big for this world, let alone a single photo or even a lengthy blog post. And, now that I think of it, I would rather be living in the moment, seeing the event through my own eyes rather than through the filter of a lens…so I have determined that if on the wedding day I don’t get a single photo, at least I can use my eyes and my green heart to try to soak up every last detail.

xox,

JNG

Girl with a Green (and Very Full) Heart

Paper Princess ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

Paper Princess by Erin Watt is a hopelessly flawed but utterly addictive novel. It is the ultimate contradiction, both extremely entertaining and borderline offensive and over-the-top. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and although I have a lot of experience reading and reviewing romance novels (many of the more steamy variety), Paper Princess is a story that I struggled with and felt very unsure about.

The plot centers on the life of Ella Harper, a seventeen year old high school student who has been through enough tragedy and turmoil to last a lifetime. She loses her single mother at a very young age and is forced to become a stripper just to put a roof over her own head and attempt to finish school. One day, her deceased father’s best friend, Callum Royal, enters her life as her legal guardian, plucks her out of poverty, and makes her a part of his filthy rich family of five sons. Ella is Cinderella in every way and she eventually adapts to her new fortunes, all the while navigating stormy relationships with her pseudo-step brothers.

This main plot was right up my alley in every way – girl of misfortune becomes a princess. Sign me up. The structure of a great romance was all there and I was ready to dive right in. What didn’t work for me and what gave me pause in enjoying Paper Princess was the age of the main characters and the fact that I found far too many elements of the story and the relationship problematic and unrealistic. Let me break it down for further…

I was totally innocent in high school, and for much of university. I’ll be the first to admit it – no shame here, but I didn’t have much experience in the ways of the heart and body until I was well into my early twenties. Having said that, I went to a high school that reminded me very much of Astor Park, the one Ella and the Royal brothers attend, and it had its fair share of wealthy, athletic and attractive guys. I fancied myself really fond of one in particular. He was your stereotypical pretty boy in every way: rich, athletic, gorgeous, every girl wanted him. Blah blah blah, same old story. Needless to say, he isn’t the man I’m getting married to in just under three months and there’s a 90% chance I would punch him in the face if I saw him on the street right now…I’m a woman scorned, what can I say! But, despite all of that, he never once acted like an outright dick to me during high school and he was, relatively speaking, genuinely nice and kind to me. I was surrounded by a lot of jocks and guys who loved partying, and although I was innocent and pretty aloof like I said, I had female friends that were into all of those things too…but I have never ever encountered any teenagers who act and talk the way those in Paper Princess do. Honestly, there were moments in this novel when even I had to blush, and that is saying a lot considering that I saw and heard a lot of things in high school I’d like to forget, and also when taking into account the fact that I’ve read an impressive number of romance novels in my day. Paper Princess was over-the-top and outlandish in so many ways though, and I am really trying to think if I ever even heard my younger brother telling me stories like the ones that go down in this novel. Hitting a guy over the head with a candlestick and tying him up naked like a pig in a glassed pool house? No, I can’t say I ever did that in high school. Shooting a girl up with a syringe of molly at a house party? Ummm, no, I’m pretty sure no one I ever went to high school with would ever do anything like that because it’s, well, illegal and absolutely absurd and dangerous. Having sex with your much younger girlfriend at the dinner table in front of your teenager daughter? Yeah, so I definitely do NOT know any fathers who would do that because…fuck…just eww.

These are literally some of the scenes that transpire in Paper Princess and I was just reading them thinking to myself, What in the actual fuck? (Excuse the harsh language, but it’s kind of hard to talk about this book without using it.) I spoke to my fiancé about some of these events to see if maybe he encountered anything at all like this at his high school and all he could say was that the novel sounded very “try hard” to him. And that is exactly it – I feel like Erin Watt (who is actually two popular romance authors, collaborating) tried so hard to write an engaging and unique romance story that most of the plot points verged on the impossible and absolutely outlandish! It was so hard to believe that any of these sorts of things would happen to or between seventeen year olds, and although I wasn’t very experienced in high school, I’m still pretty sure that most high school students do not speak in such ridiculously graphic terms. It was just all a little too much for me in the end – my enjoyment of the story was severely hindered by the fact that I felt scummy and disgusting for picturing teenagers doing these super steamy things, and it simply did not vibe well with me whatsoever. If the characters were a bit older, in their early twenties and university, fine – the events were still a bit extreme, but at least I could believe that they might be at that sort of maturity and experience level. But high school students? No, it just felt so weird and wrong and…impossible, like I said.

Further to all of that, I was very frustrated by Ella’s relationship with Reed Royal, the main love interest. Never mind the fact that they’re supposed to be treating each other like siblings, Reed is pretty much a huge ass. And like, yes, I had a crush on a guy just like him, but as I said, he wasn’t a total ass and was, for the most part, a relatively decent guy. It’s one thing to be a bad boy and have a bit of a cocky edge to your personality – it’s not ideal, but I can deal with that from a teenage boy who doesn’t have the insight or sophistication level to not be so entitled. But Reed is too over-the-top, much like the rest of the novel, and I’ve read reviews that called him abusive. I don’t know that I would go that far, but it was very annoying to see this strong and defiant character, Ella, who had been through so much and overcome a lot in her short life, bend to Reed’s every command. I wanted to be on her side because she seemed to be conscious of the risks of her attraction to him in the beginning of the novel, but then she became all too willing to please him and do everything he said. It’s one thing to have certain sexual preferences, and I have no desire to judge or even comment on that because I truly believe each person should be able to do exactly what it is they enjoy, but it does start to grate on my nerves when a confident female character allows a man to dictate her every move and preference. It is one thing to like a man who is tough and powerful, but it is quite another to let him quite literally order you around like you are a slave. That is not okay, and Ella bordered too much, particularly toward the end of the story, toward obeying Reed rather than being his equal.

“I fight it at first, sure. I always fight, but he always wins.

“It’s like he has a hold on me and I’m not sure I like it. But I’m helpless to stop it.”

“‘Maybe this says something about me, but I think it’s hot when you go all caveman on me.’”

What bothers me about the three quotes above is the fact that Ella has doubts…she isn’t 100% sure that she likes how Reed controls her or makes her feel submissive, and yet she goes along with it despite her uncertainties and hesitancy. That is what I disagree with in the representation of this relationship – we have come too far in this day and age to represent women, or worse girls/young adults, who do not stand up for themselves and are not introspective enough to take the time to figure out what it is they want and like. If a woman decides that she likes that sort of relationship, more power to her, but I am troubled by portrayals that show a woman who struggles, who isn’t fully happy in her submissive role, and yet shies away from internal reflection and from pushing herself to investigate why she might be uncomfortable and unhappy. We should be teaching our daughters to explore their passions and desires, most certainly, but to do so in a way that is respectful to as well as open and honest with themselves. If there is even a tiny bit of hesitation or reluctance, then that should be a No, or at the very least a No for now. When Ella does say, toward the conclusion of the story, that she likes when Reed acts like a “caveman”, it’s very unsettling because we, as readers, know that she has tried to put up a fight and we don’t see any points of her reflecting on this instinct to escape from the situation and deciding that she does in fact like to be controlled in that way. If she had done some careful self-reflection of her desires, that is one thing, but Ella does not do that and instead it seems like she is giving into Reed’s will and totally abandoning and ignoring her own. This is the 21st century, and I think we are way past this sort of romantic representation – if Mr. Rochester didn’t control Jane Eyre, if Mr. Darcy didn’t act like a caveman toward Lizzie Bennet, then no 21st century hero has any right to do that with a 21st century heroine…unless she specifically consents and asks. If there is even a hint of fight or resistance in her, then that must win out, every single time. No exceptions.

Why then, you might ask, would I give Paper Princess a 3.5-star rating? It was flawed in many crucial ways and as I reflect more on it, I see it as more troubling than ever before. Having said that, it was addictive, a true page-turner. I don’t know if that has solely to do with Erin Watt’s writing style, or if it is because Ella’s narrative voice is very endearing and distinct, but I couldn’t actually put the book down. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have huge issues with it, but it was entertaining and thought provoking, and so it was more successful for me than a lot of books I’ve read recently.

This is a very hard one to recommend. I would be extremely wary about handing it to my child if they were in high school, but I also feel like adult readers will find it difficult to connect to the young main characters. I don’t know where this graphic novel fits whatsoever, and so I would mainly just recommend it to readers who have heard something about it, whether good or bad, and are curious about it. That is why I picked it up, because of the totally polarizing opinions I had seen of it, and I am glad that I did if only because now I know firsthand what everyone was talking about.

A tough one to review, no question!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Cruel Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Reading Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. I knew I would really struggle to write a review of the book as I was reading it because I knew I’d never be able to fully remember or encapsulate just how weird and confused it made me throughout my reading experience. For that reason, about a third into the story, I decided to start making notes about what I was thinking and feeling as I read, and these are the notes I will present to you as my “review” of sorts. I have to say, I am still 100% confused by this novel because I don’t at all know how to make sense of the plot or the characters or any of it. I am not at all confident in my rating (which you’ll find at the end of this review) because in all likelihood it was heavily influenced by how emotional the ending of the story was and doesn’t take into account how bland and utterly confounding parts of the plot were. But, that being said, I think the purpose of reading is to challenge oneself, and this novel was undoubtedly a challenging one because it forced me to consider what elements I believe make for a great story. Is it a complex plot, or can those sometimes become too ambitious and convoluted? Is it complicated characters, or can they sometimes tend toward hypocrisy and create frustration? Is it a romance that is all encompassing, or can those sometimes become over-the-top and melodramatic? Is it an ending that leaves you raw and uncertain? I can’t say I know any of the answers to those questions, but Cruel Beauty most certainly has all of those things – it was at once vast and overly ambitious, beautiful and annoying. It is a contradiction in so many ways…and yet…I didn’t hate it…or at least, I don’t think I did.

My Thoughts As I Read

As of pg. 125

– Nyx’s internal monologue is grating because her character is not complex enough. She ruminates on the same issues over and over (very redundant!), for example hating her sister and father and aunt and lusting after Shade. However, her monologue never actually leads her anywhere!

– The writing style seems all over the place and is disorienting. Some aspects of the plot are poorly explained, for example the concept of Hermetics and the demons and why the sky is paper… Huh?!

– I really like Ignifex BUT there isn’t enough of him so far! I find Shade boring so I want more Ignifex!

So far, this is at 3 stars for me = no emotional connection or investment on my part yet, but I am still hopeful and intrigued.

– Things I want to learn more about at this point in the novel: 1) Ignifex’s bargains; 2) Ignifex’s past lives; 3) demon lore/explanation of when Ignifex came into power to be more fleshed out

As of pg. 144

– Although the “final prince” storyline is not very fleshed out and not at all well explained, I am so curious in spite of myself!

pg. 164: Literally within the span of one page, Nyx talks about hating and loving Astraia. Just when you think she is growing, either for good or evil, she backtracks. ANNOYING!

– Then an allusion to Ignifex’s masters that gets dropped…when do things come together?

* I will say, Hodge paints the rooms well, like the dripping wet library…BUT her references to mythology are too frequent, jarring and heavy handed.

* I feel like Hodge has a lot of good and intriguing ideas BUT she tries to cram too many of them into one book and it makes the plot feel heavy and cumbersome.

– I will say, I do love how Ignifex talks. I do feel that he has a distinct voice. He is unique from any main male characters I’ve encountered in a while; weirdly, he reminds me both of Josh from The Hating Game and Rhysand from ACOTAR…but he still isn’t quite as intriguing as either of them!

– Finally, a moment that had me slightly breathless and emotional, when Nyx and Ignifex were under the true sky, lying together in the grass, I’m a sucker for simple romance!

pg. 192: Oh lord, Nyx’s internal monogue is sooo repetitive!

As of pg. 238

– Things are finally getting A LOT more interesting. Codes are being cracked and lore is being explained. A romance is blossoming! This is what I wanted from page one…but is it too little, too late?

~ “And I was his delight and he was mine.” ~

– VERY reminiscent of Jane Eyre.

– I’ve read reviews that say that Nyx and Ignifex’s banter gets less witty and entertaining as they fall in love, and with that I must agree. What a shame!

As of pg. 269

– I like Astraia way better than Nyx actually! At least she has conviction and is more of a fighter. Honestly, I am 100% more intrigued now than I have been at any point before this.

– Nyx is so confusing! She will always love Ignifex and yet she is resigned to hurting him…but her mind flip-flops so easily and constantly. CHOOSE ONE THING AND JUST STICK TO IT! It is hard to keep up with her!

As of pg. 300

– I still feel like I barely understand who the Children of Typhon and the Kindly Ones are. I feel like everything will remain unexplained.

~ “I kissed him back like he was my only hope of breathing.” ~

– Okay, that quote is a good one!

……

WOAH! This ending is actually breaking my heart because I hate it when a lover loses her memory and is separated from her beloved! Could this redeem the whole story?

As of The End

– Okay, WOW! That ending was gorgeous and haunting and heart wrenching and dark and convoluted yet so simple. It sort of made the whole messed up story worthwhile because it was strangely beautiful and moving, that image of love holding on for dear life. I think it redeemed the whole novel for me. Wow! The most confusing reading experience I have ever had!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How do you even make sense of that? Like, do those notes even make any sort of sense? I have no idea! Truly, this book is just so utterly baffling – if I think too much about it and try to sort my feelings out, I think I might go crazy. I think this book is designed to make you go crazy as a reader – it’s like, you know that movie Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise that literally made no sense but was oddly brilliant and impossible to look away from? Yeah, that’s the film equivalent of Cruel Beauty. It was like impossible to decipher but impossible not to want to.

ARGH! I. Just. Do. Not. Know. *siiiiiigh*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Dead Husband Project ~ #JNGReads

“Rare to see people so raw, so exposed, reality stripped bare like that.”

I really don’t have much to say about The Dead Husband Project…because it is brilliant and anything I say about it will pale in comparison to what it actually is.

I picked up Canadian author Sarah Meehan Sirk’s collection of short stories on an absolute whim. I hadn’t heard of it, or her, before seeing the book in Chapters one day and being taken by the gorgeous cover, dark black sprayed with beautiful flowers of rich reds and blues. I wasn’t intending to buy a second book on this day, but I turned to my fiancé and said, I have to have that book – look how beautiful it is! Little did I know that the words inside were even more beautiful.

Short stories are not easy to write…believe me, I’ve tried. There is something so difficult and daunting about writing a short story, about trying to create a vast story that will fully engross a reader in a very limited amount of pages. Each word in each sentence of a short story is so very important because there aren’t that many of them available to tell a particular tale, and the short story writer must have a grasp of language akin to that of a poet – words and images must be chosen with the utmost care and never wasted. There are extremely few writers, in my opinion, who have mastered the short story genre, who have been able to make me feel things in the span of 40 pages that most 400 page novels have not, and these are the writers that I have always revered and looked up to, that I have tried to emulate in my own writing. Munro. Gallant. And now, Sirk.

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a genius. Her writing absolutely blew me away. When I’ve reviewed short story collections in the past, I’ve given ratings to individual stories, but I can’t do that in this case. Suffice it to say that there are not enough stars on Goodreads or on the planet to rate The Dead Husband Project. It is, for me, at the caliber of Munro’s Runaway (quite possibly the greatest short story collection ever published), and considering that it is Sirk’s first publication, I am incredibly eager to see what she will produce next. I would be really hard-pressed to pick a favourite story from The Dead Husband Project because literally every single one touched me and left me awe-struck. Sirk’s subjects are at once creepy and realistic, her protagonists flawed in character but flawlessly characterized. There are stories that are so inexplicably bizarre that you can’t help but ruminate on them for hours after finishing them, and there are those that are so sad and heart wrenching that you want to forget them as soon as you flip the last page. There is such vivid and pure human emotion in these stories that it is both painful to read them and impossible not to. Sirk knows something that few others do about human nature: she knows how to inhabit it, how to get into the minds of the most varied and peculiar personages, and she is clearly comfortable exploring sentiments that most humans try to ignore or deny.

If I had to pick stories that stood out from this collection (not favourites mind you because, as I said, I loved them all), well I wouldn’t want to because they are all so heavy hitting, but I could. “Barbados” haunted me for miles after I exited the subway, where I read it. It left me breathless and anxious and scared. It made me feel like my past could and would come back to snatch me up and suffocate me, as it does for so many of Sirk’s main characters. It made me afraid of former versions of myself and of the probably foolhardy decisions they had made. “In the Dark” left me raw and vulnerable. It painted such a true and realistic portrait of anxiety that it made me introspective. It forced me to examine my own anxieties and fears, and view them from an outside perspective, one that was a little less understanding and a bit more cynical. It made me see what other people, those who aren’t quite as compassionate and don’t live inside my head, might see when they look at me. “The Date”…that story I find very difficult to talk about. It left me feeling physically ill and petrified. My severe childhood fear of robots notwithstanding, this story opened my eyes to the dangers of technology, to the tumultuous and traumatic future we might all be headed towards. It made me look at love differently, it made me consider new forms of love that might spring up in decades to come, and the new forms of acceptance they will require and necessitate.

Reading The Dead Husband Project left me irrevocably changed. I am a different human for having read it, not necessarily better but in no way worse. The best description would be to say that it damaged me, it scraped me down to the core, it turned me inside out and made my heart race with exhilaration and nerves and excitement. It was one of the most all-encompassing, disturbing and visceral reading experiences I have had in recent years, and it has left me with much to contemplate.

The Dead Husband Project is not for the faint of heart because it will shock and overwhelm you. But, oh, is it ever worth it because it is one of the most riveting and powerful pieces of literature I have ever encountered. An absolute must read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Wrath and the Dawn ~ #JNGReads

I was about to give The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh 4 stars, but then I just couldn’t do it.

I did absolutely enjoy the story and many aspects of the novel, which I will outline below, but there were an equal number of things that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around and didn’t exactly like. I am a bit disappointed in this because so many reviews I read of the novel were very complimentary, but I can see why readers would love the story and find it engrossing and intoxicating, so I can’t say that I don’t understand the hype. What I will say is that, for me, there were a few more problems with The Wrath and the Dawn than I would’ve liked, so that made it hard for me to give it an above average rating.

I think it’s easiest if I list the things I really liked about The Wrath and the Dawn and then the things I really didn’t, so you can see what I mean. When you break it down to the number of amazing vs. disappointing elements, I believe it is clear why I settled on a 3 rather than a 4-star rating.

What I Really Liked About The Wrath and the Dawn:

  • The Culture and World Building ~ I am half Lebanese myself, and while I adore Middle Eastern food and culture and am marrying a Persian man, I can’t say that I have ever read a novel set in the Middle East. Ahdieh undoubtedly creates a rich and sumptuous world in The Wrath and the Dawn and Khorasan is a kingdom I could easily visualize and get swept up in. Ahdieh’s descriptions of the Middle Eastern clothing, food and landscapes are detailed and intricate, and I found it very fun to try and picture Caliph Khalid’s palace and the various outfits that Shahrzad wore. My mouth also quite literally watered at the descriptions of the food (see the quote below – this is food that I am very accustomed to eating at my own family gatherings!) and I think that in this day and age, we need more Middle Eastern settings to stand out in pop culture and literature. I fully commend Ahdieh for creating such an engrossing and vivid world for her story.

“Soon, platters of food were brought before them – steaming, buttery basmati rice with bright orange saffron staining its center, surrounded by lamb in a savory sauce of dates, caramelized onions, and tangy barberries; skewers of marinated chicken and roasted tomatoes, served alongside chilled yogurt and cucumbers; fresh herbs and lavash bread, with rounds of goat cheese and sliced red radishes splashing brilliant colors against a polished wood backdrop.”

  • The Truly Strong Female Character, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran ~ Having just finished Stalking Jack the Ripper, I was in need of a defiant and self-respecting female character. (I’m sorry, but I believe Audrey Rose was sorely lacking in that department and you can read my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to find out why.) Shahrzad al-Khayzuran is very confident, but she is also human and open to changing her opinions. She isn’t arrogant or narrow-minded and I appreciated the fact that she grew and developed very much throughout the novel, particularly in her relationship with Khalid. I liked Shazi a lot, and I found all of her dialogues, especially with her handmaiden Despina, to be super witty and entertaining.
  • The Man that Lets Her Be Strong ~ I also always appreciate it when a male character encourages his female counterpart to be strong, to harness her power and to grow her self-esteem. Although it was touchy at first, Khalid truly does become a character that pushes Shazi to be better and gives her the opportunity to challenge herself and become the queen she is meant to be. This is a truly amazing interaction to behold between the two main characters.

“‘Do better than this, Shazi. My queen is without limitations. Boundless in all that she does. Show them.’”

“‘Shahrzad al-Khayzuran! You are not weak. You are not indecisive. You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure.’”

~ Khalid to Shahrzad

What I Didn’t Love About The Wrath and the Dawn:

  • The Instalove ~ It made very little sense to me how Shazi and Khalid just fell in love all of a sudden, and I feel that comes down to a failing with the pacing and storytelling in The Wrath and the Dawn. It seemed really abrupt that Shazi went from wanting to kill Khalid to saying that he is the air she breathes. I’ll get into more detail about this in a second, but in the very beginning of the narrative, very little dialogue or interaction between Shazi and Khalid is shown, so it sort of comes across that they become attracted to one another and fall in love instantly, all in the span of one night when they leave the palace to have some fun together. This annoyed me a bit because I was expecting this scenic and very romantic relationship that sort of never happened, in my opinion, and was very rushed.
  • The Disjointedness ~ This sort of relates to the Instalove idea: I felt that the plot of The Wrath and the Dawn was somewhat disjointed and lacked focus. The novel is supposed to be about Shahrzad volunteering to be Khalid’s bride and saving herself from being murdered at dawn (as all of Khalid’s other wives are) by telling him stories that will pique his interest and then will lead to affection on his part. This concept is fascinating and could make for a totally unique love story…but for whatever reason, Ahdieh chose to abandon the concept very early on in the story. As readers, we watch Shazi tell Khalid two or three stories, and then it is alluded to that she tells him more, but we never witness it, so it feels like the entire crux of the novel is ignored. We also never see Khalid fall in love with Shazi through her stories, and this sort of made me feel jilted or like the story was incorrectly branded and marketed.
  • The Scattered Nature of the Storylines ~ In the same sense that the narrative of The Wrath and the Dawn felt very disjointed, the plot came across as incredibly scattered to me. I think that Ahdieh tried to accomplish too much in one novel, and rather than honing her focus on Shazi and Khalid and their quest to understand each other and explore what ruling Khorasan together can mean, Ahdieh chose to explore side plots related to Shazi’s father Jahandar and her childhood sweetheart Tariq. While this created some conflict in regards to her growing feelings for Khalid, it also came across as drama for the sake of it. The same is true of the conflicts between Khalid and the ruler of the neighbouring kingdom, Parthia – I believe it would have been enough to explore further how the people of Khorasan feel about their seemingly malicious and monstrous boy-king, rather than adding in a conflict with another territory entirely.
  • The Random Tidbits That Go Unexplained ~ Following on the previous point, Ahdieh mentions a lot of ideas that are never explained. The whole novel seems to be one big cliffhanger because so much of the characters’ development is left to be done. For example, Shazi and her father Jahandar’s magical abilities are never explored (What was with the burning book and the magic carpet?), Despina’s pregnancy and her pseudo-relationship with Jalal is left entirely unresolved, and Shazi’s younger sister comes across as a huge and important character in the first few chapters, only to disappear midway through the story. The final 20 pages of the novel are also very frustrating in that they are not only a cliffhanger, but they also introduce some elements to the story that were not present before and that aren’t explained at all, such as why Jalal would want Shazi to leave Khorasan forever after he encouraged her romance with Khalid, whether or not Khalid knew that Khorasan was going to burn, and the notion that Jahandar, who up until this point seems unfailingly loyal to his daughters, failed them as a father for their whole lives. I wanted desperately for the end of the novel to blow me away and solidify that 4-star rating, but is just did not! If anything, it confused me more and made me feel less inclined to pick up the sequel.

It makes me sad, but it really looks like I didn’t like more about The Wrath and the Dawn than I liked. Having said that, it wasn’t a dreadful or tedious read, so I would probably still recommend it as one of the slightly better young adult novels I have read recently. All in all, though, The Wrath and the Dawn was, for me, mediocre at best.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #4

Apologies are in order (I feel like I apologize a lot on this blog, for missing posts, eh?)…I missed my Weekly Round-Up last week, but I promise I have a great excuse! Last Sunday, I fully intended to write up … Continue reading

Nine Women, One Dress ~ #JNGReads

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart