A Little Life ~ #JNGReads

It is hard to describe how reading A Little Life made me feel.  This novel is, to sum up 800+ pages in a single word, sorrowful.  There is nothing optimistic about this novel, there is no bright, shining kernel of truth that makes the trauma and sadness easier to swallow.  It is a novel full of pain and suffering, and one that almost wallows in it, not trying to lift the reader into any more positive circumstances.

I now understand more fully a word my professors in university often used to describe literature and our reactions to it: visceral.  I always knew in theory that a visceral reaction to a text implied great emotion and feeling, and meant that the reader had temporarily put aside their more intellectual assessments to let feelings overwhelm them.  I have always been this type of reader – one who favours emotion over logic, who prefers to talk about how I feel about a novel rather than dissecting it with scientific vigour – and I was always so happy when lectures in my English classes tended toward sentimentality rather than structured analysis.

But I don’t know that I’ve ever been quite so touched by a novel as I was by A Little Life.  Don’t get me wrong, I have read my fair share of upsetting novels in the past – The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson immediately comes to mind, and it does, actually, have a similar narrative style to A Little Life – but I haven’t read one so moving and painful in quite some time.  A Little Life follows the friendship of four men, but it zeroes in pretty quickly on the relationship (romantic and otherwise) between Willem and Jude.  Jude, as many reviewers before me have noted, is the heart and soul of the novel, though, and much of the text is devoted to investigating Jude’s childhood traumas, including a whole host of disgusting circumstances that made me physically nauseous to read about.  Reading Jude’s story is not for the faint of heart, especially as it documents in graphic detail horrific stories of childhood sexual abuse, and it is downright hard to read at points.  So many times, I felt like I wanted to stop reading, to put the book down, and yet I didn’t because for whatever reason I felt compelled to keep going.  That is surely a testament to how talented Hanya Yanagihara is as a writer, and there is no doubt that the prose flows and is highly poetic and beautiful.  There is such a jarring contrast between the subject matter and the gorgeous words Yanagihara uses to describe the events…but the result is that the reader is urged to move forward and, ultimately, does, even despite every instinct not to.

There’s not much I can really say about A Little Life without repeating myself endlessly (it is painful, sorrowful, sad, depressing, traumatic, serious, touching, heartbreaking…blah blah blah), so I’ll just leave it at, it’s brilliant.  Many reviewers have disagreed, and that is totally fine, but for me, it was a moving experience in every way and I feel like a better person for having read the story.  I am proud that I’ve read it as I feel it is a modern work of great literature, a contemporary classic, and I truly can’t find any fault with Yanagihara’s writing or characterization or pacing or any of it.  Yes, many readers have felt that the novel is too long and a bit repetitive, but I am a lover of Dickens and John Irving, and so I am used to meaningful repetition, to long novels that say much and say it so well.  So, I cannot fault Yanagihara for writing a large novel because, the bottom line is, she wrote a great one.

I would urge anyone who is okay with deep, thoughtful and heavy literature to pick this one up because it is a read you won’t soon forget.

“[H]e was worried because to be alive was to worry.  Life was scary; it was unknowable.  Even Malcolm’s money wouldn’t immunize him completely.  Life would happen to him, and he would have to try to answer it, just like the rest of them.”

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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JNG’s Weekly Round-Up ~ What I’ve Read and Been Up to Recently

Hello and Happy Sunday, dear Readers! My apologies for not having a Weekly Round-Up for you last week.  I had every intention of posting a review for the book I finished two weeks ago last weekend, but I must admit, … Continue reading

The Assassin’s Blade ~ #JNGReads the Throne of Glass Series

Check out the bookstagram page I share with my best friend, Emerald & Opal, to see more photos like this!

I feel like it’s time to finally put some thoughts on paper about a series that has recently taken my life by storm: the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. I recently finished reading the novella collection The Assassin’s Blade, which serves as a prequel to the series itself, and just before that, I finished Empire of Storms, which pretty much destroyed me. The only current novel in the series that I have left to finish is Tower of Dawn…that is, until the new novel is released in October. Considering that I am just about caught up in the series, I figured it was about time for me to say a few things about the series, through the lens of having just finished a prequel that made me think a lot about my journey with these characters.

Having said all of this, there may be some minor spoilers ahead for the entire Throne of Glass series, so please bear that in mind.

Probably the single most impressive thing, in my opinion, about the Throne of Glass series is the development of the characters and their relationships with one another. This is what has led me to write this review after reading The Assassin’s Blade because so much of that collection brings to the forefront just how far the characters have come by the time we reach Empire of Storms. In The Assassin’s Blade, we see Celaena Sardothien in a way that, having come as far as Empire of Storms, we haven’t seen her for some time. She is back to being Adarlan’s Assassin, an overly confident sassy-pants who is obsessed with refinement, comfort and her physical appearance. She comes across as a bit vapid, I’ll be honest, but there is also evidently some fight in her and a great deal of strength. She isn’t exactly likable though, and in many ways she’s the true opposite to someone like Feyre of Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses in that Celaena is a bit…well…spoiled.

Reading about this version of Celaena (believe me, there are many “versions” of this character) reminded me of my initial reaction to Throne of Glass which, to be honest, wasn’t a novel I loved. Although the series certainly picked up for me, it wasn’t until I hit Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows that I started to feel any affection for Celaena…and at that point, she had already become an entirely different character and reassumed her rightful identity as Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. I’ve noticed that Maas tends to like to do this with her characters, forcing them to make a total 180 shift, and Celaena certainly does that when she embraces the fact that she is the lost queen of Terrasen and accepts the responsibility associated with that. Aelin is similar to Celaena in some ways – she is fierce, cunning and skilled – but she is also so very different in that she is truly selfless. That much is clear by the (devastating!!!) end of Empire of Storms, and this transformation gave me not only a respect for Maas’ writing and creativity, but also for Aelin as a character. She has quickly become one of my favourite fictional heroines.

But how do we, as readers, reconcile the Aelin we know (and, in my case, love) by the end of Empire of Storms with the Celaena we found to be a bit of a mean girl in Throne of Glass and The Assassin’s Blade? Well, I think this is where the true power of the Throne of Glass series as a whole becomes clear. The series is the story of both Aelin Galathynius and Celaena Sardothien, and it is important to remember that these women are the same person. Who can say, though, that they have not changed at all over the years? Isn’t it normal for a person to grow and develop, especially in the face of trauma and adversity? So, why should Aelin/Celaena not undergo this same process – and why should older, wiser Aelin be judged for the actions and attitude of younger, less world-weary Celaena?

It was remarkable, to me, to see Celaena all over again in The Assassin’s Blade after journeying so far with Aelin. It really made me reconsider Celaena’s entire personality because I was much more sympathetic toward her while reading The Assassin’s Blade than I was when I first encountered her in Throne of Glass. That’s surely due to the gift of hindsight, but knowing what Aelin would go through in Empire of Storms, the sacrifices she would be forced to make by the end, I felt so sad for Celaena because I knew what was ahead in her future, from the salt mines of Endovier, to horrible battles against grotesque enemies, to…an iron mask and iron chains and an iron box that I’m still not even close to ready to talk about. Of course, Aelin also finds a lot of love (and heartache too) along the way, and it is glorifying to remember that she will eventually meet Rowan and share some beautiful moments with him…but everything is tinged with a bit of unease and melancholy, in the full knowledge that Celaena Sardothien, who puts so much time into her outfits and her hair and her nails, will very soon reach a point where none of that will matter even remotely.

Maas is a master of creating characters that stick with you. She made me, the reader who has never picked up Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, into a fantasy lover just by creating heroines that touched me so profoundly and made me care. Aelin is one of those heroines, no doubt, and I’ve found myself thinking of her nonstop, especially after finishing Empire of Storms, which literally haunts me. I assume that Maas’ intention in releasing The Assassin’s Blade was to make her readers reconsider Celaena from a whole new perspective, and to me, she achieved the mark and then some. I was heartbroken for future Aelin, but still uplifted for former Celaena, knowing that she would become this fearsome and fascinating and awe-inspiring woman to behold. That ride, that journey of watching a woman come into her own, was remarkable.

And, perhaps I’m over-reading things and wearing my English MA glasses for this one…but were there an absurd number of references to iron chains and doors in The Assassin’s Blade?! That cannot be coincidence, can it? Not cool, Sarah J. Maas, not cool!

Song Recommendation:

I feel this song accurately represents Aelin’s journey as a character…and so I’ve been listening to it non-stop – haha!

*College & Electric Youth – A Real Hero*

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ Summer #JNGReads

FALL IS HERE!!!

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

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

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

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

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

THANK YOU FOR READING!!! xo

Origin by Dan Brown

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Greek Escape by Karen Swan

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

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

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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

❥❥❥(out of 5)

 

Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight

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

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Love… From Both Sides by Nick Spalding

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

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

My Favourite Quote

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies by Laura Stampler

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

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

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

 

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

Things I Liked:

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

– The fashion!

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

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

Things I Didn’t Like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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

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

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

 

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

5 Sentence Reviews ~ A New Challenge ~ #JNGReads

I came across a comment recently on a Goodreads review that I was reading which made me a little bit nervous. This comment was from someone who had read the review I was also reading and it said something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “This review was so great and the perfect length! So many reviews on here are too long and I’m like, TL;DR!” After searching what exactly this abbreviation meant – it turns out, it means, “Too Long; Didn’t Read” – I went back to check the length of the review, which ended up being around one small paragraph.

This immediately struck me as interesting. I’m one of those people who feels that my reviews have to be super long, otherwise they won’t seem legitimate. Oftentimes, I will finish a book and set to work to right a brief review (sometimes at like 10:00 at night), and soon enough I find that I’ve written two entire pages of thoughts and feelings about whatever novel I’ve just finished. I thought this was a good thing for the longest time because it made me feel like the review was worthy of posting on my blog or Goodreads, but this comment that I found gave me pause because it made me think that perhaps my reviews are so long that no one wants to read them. This upset me somewhat, but I also recognized the validity of it because I myself often skim really long reviews, rather than reading them conscientiously.

So, all this to say that I decided that it was time to challenge myself and make a bit of a change. For this reason, I’ve chosen to start a new initiative for the rest of the summer in which I will be trying my hardest to only post a 5 sentence review for each novel I read until the end of August. This is going to be extremely challenging for me because I tend to be pretty verbose (as I’m sure you already know), but I think it will be a useful exercise in developing my writing skills and making sure that my reviews are concise and meaningful. I also want to see if I get more interaction on Goodreads with these shorter, more bite-sized reviews, and I think this is a worthwhile experiment.

For that reason, you may notice longer than normal times between my reviews this summer – it’s likely that I’ll combine a few reviews into a larger “Summer Book Reviews” post, so that my post is more worthwhile to read than a mere 5 sentence paragraph. All that being said, if you’re interested in becoming my friend on Goodreads, you’ll be able to see all of my 5 sentence reviews in real-time, as they go up. And, I am really excited to give this a try because, of course, writing something short and sweet is easily as difficult (if not moreso) as writing something long and elaborate, and is a serious skill in its own right…this isn’t my forte whatsoever, so I’m curious to give it a try – wish me luck!

Let’s start, then, with my first 5 sentence review, for a book I just finished today…

180 Seconds by Jessica Park

180 Seconds is a novel that totally blew me away and was so unexpectedly enjoyable that I nearly finished it in its entirety in one day, and stayed up way past my bedtime on a Sunday night to do so. The relationship developed between Allison, a scarred young woman who has suffered throughout her life at the hands of the foster care system, and Esben, a social media savant, is well-paced and full of witty and flirtatious banter as well as heartfelt moments of personal growth and maturity. I was particularly struck by how Jessica Park tackles the prevalence of social media in our current culture, and emphasizes the positive results that can come by being so connected to the world around us and to individuals from all different walks of life. Although there were bitter and sad moments throughout the novel, the message was overall incredibly uplifting, and each one of the characters, from the main characters (Allison and Esben) to the secondary characters (Steffi, Simon, Kerry) undergo significant and realistic/human changes. I would highly recommend this novel to millenials who are curious about how to use social media to its full potential, but also to romance readers who are interested in a unique take on how social media can strengthen interpersonal relationships.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Just One Day ~ #JNGReads

This is just a personal opinion…but…Just One Day is not a good book.

Like, I am seriously disappointed right now.

And confused. Beyond confused.

I have to be honest, I have no idea what kind of book Just One Day is, or what kind of book it’s trying to be. Is it a YA romance? Is it a bildungsroman? Is it a new adult romance? Is it a travel novel? Is it a college narrative? Is it a family story? I have no idea.

I had really high expectations for Just One Day. I’ve been wanting to read it for years now, I’ve always been intrigued by Gayle Forman’s stories (since watching the film adaptation of If I Stay a few years back), and I adore Paris. To say I am GUTTED that I didn’t enjoy this novel is a HUGE understatement.

Gutted.

There’s a lot that’s not good about this novel. The characters are one-dimensional, from classic bad boy Willem to gay best friend Dee. Allyson, the main character, is whiny and her transformation is represented all through telling rather than showing. Allyson’s conflicts with her mom are a focal point of the novel, until the most anti-climactic showdown to ever be featured in literature. And talk about INSTALOVE…but to the point of obsession.

This novel had SUCH potential that it didn’t live up to, and the saddest part is that it came across as one big confusing mess. This novel could’ve been a profound statement on depression, on feeling unfulfilled in life, on breaking free of control from other people and finding oneself. Instead it was a rather boring tale of a college student who realizes she needs to make some changes in her life and then spends more time moping about these changes than actually doing anything. I was not into Allyson or Willem from the very beginning because I felt they were bland and lacked dimension…but I truly grew to hate Allyson by the end. I was just so…OVER IT.

The novel also had an astounding number of typos in it, and this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine that I’m not going to rant on, but that certainly hindered and frustrated my reading experience.

Maybe I’m being harsh about this, but honestly, I was hoping for A LOT more from this novel. And I am so moved by how disappointed I am.

To further make my case, let me quote a few lines that struck me as particularly offensive and strange when I was reading the novel, and you can judge for yourself…

“I look at the new haircut, the nose ring, the hairy armpits. It all makes sense. ‘So, are you a lesbian now?’”

“I look at him, sort of shocked. I mean I figured Dee was gay, but I’ve never heard him talk all sassy-gay-sidekick before.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m being overly sensitive about this, but most of the characters were totally pointless and random and served no purpose to the plot whatsoever, from Allyson’s best friend Melanie to her new friend Wren, and so I was left wondering if Forman was just trying to include some diversity in her novel without doing anything more with her characters. But at the same time, statements like the ones above seemed super stereotypical and simply wrong to me, so I don’t think she got the whole diversity thing right whatsoever.

Whatever, I am so over this. I am saddened by it, but I’m beyond ready to move onto the next novel.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Royal We ~ #JNGReads

The Royal We was not at all what I expected…and I think I’m okay with that!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is supposed to be a Kate Middleton fan fiction. I think that description does this novel, which is actually quite well-written and poignant, a great disservice.

To me, if someone says a novel is a form of fan fiction, I’m immediately expecting something cheesy and over the top. No offence to all the great fan fiction out there (believe me, I enjoy reading some of it), but I’m not expecting a great work of literature when I sit down with something like that. And no, The Royal We isn’t Dickens (nor should it be), but it is definitely more of a contemporary novel than a romance novel, which I feel is an important distinction. When I heard The Royal We was based on the relationship between Kate Middleton and Prince William, I quickly put it on my TBR because I thought it would be an outlandish and adorable chick lit. experience. I was expecting a novel very similar to Emma Chase’s Royally Screwed or to the Netflix movie A Christmas Prince. I certainly was not expecting one that is very deep and thoughtful.

The Royal We is not just steamy sex scenes and insane drama – actually, it doesn’t have much of either of those things at all. It really isn’t even a book about the relationship between Bex Porter and Prince Nicholas of Wales so much as it is a novel about Bex herself, a young woman who is coming of age in extreme circumstances. As readers, we get to know Bex better than any of the other characters, except perhaps for her twin sister, Lacey, and the novel becomes more an examination of what it means to be a young woman in extraordinary conditions, a woman who wants to maintain her identity while still uniting herself in marriage to a strong man.

Isn’t this a very contemporary and relatable situation to be in? I know personally that I think about these sorts of things on a daily basis, particularly now that I am a wife – how can I give myself entirely to my husband and still be my own person? How can I build a career and still be a loving wife and, one day, mother? How can I maintain my sense of self when all of my heart and everything I am is so inextricably tied to another? Of course, Bex’s circumstances are unique in that she must acclimate herself to a royal establishment that has been around for centuries, but fundamentally, her struggles are those of any woman in the 21st century. How do we, as women or as hopeless romantics, maintain a respect for history and tradition and romance while at the same time breaking free of it? It is an interesting question to explore.

Cocks and Morgan do some great work in this novel to try to answer this question, from Bex’s perspective at least, and I was truly not expecting that. I was ready to encounter a pretty flat female character who is all heart-eye emojis for her love interest, but Bex really doesn’t spend too much time fawning over Nick. Instead, she deals (very realistically) with the ups and downs of a human romance, and although not all of her decisions are advisable, they are very genuine. I found myself really liking Bex and really sympathizing with her, which is not something I can say is true of most romance novel heroines I encounter.

Bex’s relationship with her twin sister Lacey is also very well-articulated, and the novel is in many ways more about this unique family dynamic than it is about Bex and Nick. It is fascinating to watch Bex try to navigate her romantic relationship while still maintaining the incredibly close relationship she has always had with her twin – and it is equally fascinating to watch them both realize that their relationship must necessarily evolve as Bex’s romance becomes more serious. This is another very realistic situation to address because so often family relationships must change and adapt as romantic relationships progress, and I for one was impressed with the fact that Cocks and Morgan would choose to handle that issue.

I would compare The Royal We to a novel like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, rather than to a straight-up romance like Royally Screwed. It is an adaptation of a well-known story, sure, but it is also a sophisticated novel in many ways, and it is by no means a quick, beach read. There’s a lot more going on below the surface than I think the marketing of this novel suggests, and I for one was pleasantly surprised by that!

The only real issue I had with the novel was its representation of Nick’s mother, Emma. Obviously, she is meant to represent Princess Diana, but in The Royal We, Emma is living and suffers from a crippling mental illness. I think it made sense for Cocks and Morgan to handle the “Princess Diana” character in this way, but I was a bit annoyed by their representation of mental illness. I wasn’t overly fond of Nick’s frequent outbursts that his mother is “mad” and I thought the subject of mental health wasn’t treated deeply enough for it to be included in the novel. What may have been more interesting would have been if Nick’s mother was very present in the novel, especially to underscore the fictional nature of the novel and give the authors a chance to do something a little bit different with the true story. This was the one major flaw for me with the novel, and I wish Emma’s character wasn’t so often dismissed.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Royal We and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Eligible and to those who would be interested by a realistic, unvarnished portrayal of what it means to be a royal.

A Few Quotes I Liked:

“Kissing him was pure, ravenous heat, a thousand gigawatts blowing my every fuse.”

“I don’t know why it takes something monumentally destructive to remind you what you want to save.”

“Ten seconds are an eternity when they’re full of dread.”

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Love & Gelato ~ #JNGReads

I am having seriously mixed feelings about Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch!

This situation is giving me major Anna and the French Kiss vibes, which I’m not sure I like. A bit of backstory on this: Anna and the French Kiss is a very popular and much-loved YA novel that I had a very controversial opinion about because…well, I really did NOT like it. You can read my impassioned (and very annoyed) review of it here. Anyway, suffice it to say that although I wanted to LOVE Anna and the French Kiss because it seemed like it would be right up my alley, I didn’t, and I was super disappointed…almost inconsolably so! 😉

Let me start by saying that my reaction to Love & Gelato is nowhere near as violent. I didn’t hate it by any means! But, I just felt, especially toward the end of the novel, like something huge was missing. I still can’t put my finger on it, but I am going to try to write out a list to hopefully wrap my mind around it.

The Good Stuff

🍦 Gelato ~ In my humble opinion, there was not enough gelato eating in this novel for it to be part of the title, but any mention of it did make me smile because, quite simply, I adore ice cream!

🍦 Reference to Roman Holiday ~ Aka the GREATEST movie of all time! Enough said.

🍦 Lina (the main character) wasn’t super annoying! ~ She was nowhere near as insufferable as Anna from Anna and the French Kiss, and although I didn’t think she was nearly developed enough in some ways (more on this later), she was pretty endearing.

🍦 FLORENCE ~ I am OBSESSED with Florence and have been ever since I visited it 4 years ago. Talk about the most GORGEOUS place on Earth!!! I have been dying to go back, and this novel certainly made me nostalgic. Although, that being said, I did have some problems with the role Florence played in the novel…but more on this in a moment.

A photo of me in Italy because…why not?!

🍦 Ren ~ Super cute and not an annoying love interest! Barely a love interest at all (more on this below – are you also getting the sense, like I am, that every PRO is also a CON here?), but some of his lines were super witty and made me chuckle.

The Lacklustre Stuff

🍦 Poor Character Development ~ I finished this almost 400 page novel feeling like I barely knew the characters at all, and that was a real shame. Coming off two fantastic reads where I became super attached to the main characters in the same number of pages (Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson and Beautiful by Christina Lauren), I was slightly annoyed that I finished Love & Gelato and felt like I didn’t know Lina or her mother any better than I did at the start. I didn’t sense any profound character development, and I think this was a missed opportunity because Lina in particular has a lot going on in her life and she could’ve grown immensely. I also felt that her relationship with her (newly found) father wasn’t focused on nearly enough, and it would’ve been nice to seem them bonding for longer than a handful of pages. I just think Lina could’ve progressed and learned so much about herself, and I definitely think that was the intention of the novel, but it fell flat for me.

🍦 Insta-Love ~ Okay, I’m not the type of reader who breaks out in hives anytime insta-love happens in a novel, but I could certainly do without it. In the case of Love & Gelato, I just couldn’t accept it. Ren and Lina are friends for about 5 days before Lina starts declaring that she is IN LOVE with him. It’s one thing to develop a close friendship or even become infatuated with someone within a few days (some people are just kindred spirits, I get that) but to say you’re IN LOVE is a bit much. Hey, I’m all for love at first sight when done properly, but this was just a bit over the top, maybe because Lina’s declaration kind of comes out of nowhere and the passage where she starts talking about being in love with Ren is written in a super awkward way, in my opinion. I also have no idea what the purpose of Thomas was, except maybe to sort of establish a love triangle, although that didn’t even work and wasn’t fleshed out enough!

(Sidenote: I fully realize that Roman Holiday is kind of an example of insta-love as well…BUT I have a feeling I would fall instantly in love with Gregory Peck too sooo…?!)

🍦 The Diary ~ What, may I ask, was the purpose of Lina’s mom’s diary? I truly have no idea! At first, it seemed like a cool idea that Lina’s mother sent her old diary to Florence for Lina to read when she arrived, but by the end of the entries, I was left feeling that they were so juvenile and poorly written. Although some secrets about Lina’s mother’s life were revealed through the diary, I personally would’ve rather read about Lina exploring Florence and becoming her own person, rather than reading somewhat lazily articulated diary entries from her mother. Also, the profound takeaway from the diary wasn’t all that interesting to me, and it sort of, again, took away from a great relationship that was budding between Lina and her father, Howard. I just thought the diary was an utter waste of pages, if I’m honest.

🍦 FLORENCE ~ How do you have a travel novel set in Florence and not write more about…Florence??? This is probably what boggled my mind the most – Lina spends very little time in Florence, considering she has just moved there. Sure, we get a mention of the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo and popular landmarks like that, but we get no scenes of Lina exploring the restaurants and cafés of Florence, and she spends more time running around than getting to know the locals or enjoying her surroundings. I would’ve loved to read more about Lina growing accustomed to the culture and falling in love with the city, but instead, we’re taken on this journey of “discovery” that, again, wasn’t very interesting to me.

🍦 All the TYPOS!!! ~ I swear, there was one (either grammatical or spelling) on like every single page. This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine and it seriously hindered my reading flow…but maybe I’m just being nitpicky with this one?! Super frustrating though!

I don’t know, I was disappointed by this novel overall because it wasn’t nearly as sweet and sentimental as I hoped it would be. I would still recommend it as a quick beach read, but I wouldn’t rush out to buy it and there are so many better YA novels out there, if you ask me.

Some Quotes from the Novel I Liked (…to end with the positive…)

You may be slow to warm up, but once you do, you light up the whole room.

“Sometimes I feel like my time is divided into two categories: time with X, and time spent waiting to be with X.”

“‘And I’ve never, ever, ever thought of you as anything more.’

Does it count as a lie if you’re denying something you’ve only fully admitted to yourself for about a minute? Also: One too many ‘evers’ there. But I was going for believable.”

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Beautiful ~ #JNGReads

I picked up Beautiful by Christina Lauren for $6.00 at my local bookstore. For that little money, I wouldn’t have minded if the book was a 3-star, or even a 2-star, read. Imagine my joy and surprise when I realized very early into the novel that I would have to give it 5 stars.

I have to digress for a moment here to say that my rating system for books has become very emotional in recent years. Some people have a strict, rigid set of criteria they use to rate books (my best friend, CV, has one of these and I am in constant admiration of how consistent her ratings are), but I somehow can’t manage to write a list for myself. I always seem to rely on my feelings and sentiments more than anything to help me in rating a book, and I base my rating entirely on the emotions I feel, and how strongly I feel them, when I close the back cover. Some books make me feel giddy and elated and like I can’t imagine ever feeling that excited about a book again…those are the 5-star reads. Some books leave me annoyed and frustrated and like I want to shove the character into a wall…those are the 2-star reads. And as for the novels I feel pretty indifferent towards or just don’t feel all that passionately about…those fall somewhere in between. (Sidenote: I’ve found it nearly impossible to give a book a 1-star rating because I generally can find at least one or two redeeming qualities.) This isn’t an organized rating system by any means, because sometimes I’ll feel very strongly about a novel that maybe I know I really shouldn’t, but I do allow myself to give into sentimentality and nostalgia and the warm and fuzzies because, for me, reading is a pleasant and fun pastime more than anything, and I feel that my ratings should reflect that.

So, with all that said, Beautiful by Christina Lauren feels, in this moment, like a 5-star read to me. Is it even close to the standards of my ultimate favourite novel of all time, Jane Eyre…heck no! For Jane Eyre, I require infinite stars! But did Beautiful make my heart feel warm and occasionally bring tears to my eyes, and did it serve as the perfect companion for me over a long weekend here in Toronto…yes, ma’am! Beautiful was cheesy and cliché enough to make this Hallmark movie lover blush, but it was also strangely deep in moments, and made me hug my husband a little tighter and be even more grateful for him and for the life adventures we get to go on together, whether those involve travel or hanging out with our friends or one day having a family of our own. Not a single one of the characters in Beautiful annoyed me, and I actually felt myself wishing that I had read the other books in the series so that I could get to know some of the characters, particularly Hanna and Will, better. Beautiful made me want to pick up other books by Christina Lauren ASAP, which was a pleasant surprise considering that I was not impressed with their novel Dating You / Hating You, which I read a few months ago. What can I say? Beautiful made me smile and laugh and it found itself a spot among some of my favourite chick lit. books of all time. So for all those reasons, this very second, it’s getting 5 stars from me.

I’ll be recommending Beautiful to some of my besties for sure, because hopefully it will make them long to take a couples’ retreat as much as I do. I’ll be chatting about scenes from it to my husband for days, I’m sure, because they’ll strike me as so cute and domestic and romantic that I’ll want nothing more than to share them with him. And, probably sooner rather than later, I’ll be picking up the other novels in the Beautiful series because I just have to know how Ruby and Niall finally got together and how Hanna managed to quiet her workaholic mind long enough to fall in love with Will. All in all, I’d say my $6.00 read, which provided me with a whole load of new fictional friends, was an unequivocal success!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Since You’ve Been Gone ~ #JNGReads

As far as YA novels go, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson is pretty perfect.

It has everything you could ever require from a summer read: a slightly farfetched but exciting and fast-paced plot, a sweet and swoonworthy love interest, a unique and funny cast of secondary characters (shoutout to my fave, Emily’s younger brother, Beckett), and an endearing heroine whose narrative voice is honest and witty and passionate. Oh, and it also has tons of references to the Beatles…so what more could you ask for?

Since You’ve Been Gone follows the summer of Emily, after her best friend Sloane and her parents have disappeared without explanation. Sloane leaves Emily a list of 13 tasks to complete over the summer, and throughout this process, Emily becomes friends with new characters, Frank, Collins and Dawn, and learns a great deal about herself and her confidence. What really surprised me is that the novel is much less about the friendship between Sloane and Emily, and is much more about watching Emily grow up, in a way, and challenge herself to become a stronger person. Other readers have commented on Emily’s journey throughout the novel, and I have to say, it was one of the aspects that I found the most refreshing because Emily is never annoying or juvenile, like a lot of YA heroines are, and is instead totally relatable and realistic. She is adorable, but also deeply flawed and confused, like a lot of 17 year olds are, and it is a wonderful thing to witness her learn some valuable life lessons and come out the other side this remarkable young woman. I could easily see myself becoming friends with Emily, and I felt that I could relate to her sense of feeling lost and having to discover and define herself.

What I liked most about Since You’ve Been Gone, though, is how mature it was, not only in how it tackled those important life lessons I mentioned, but also in how it treated its characters.

Firstly, the characters have to face and understand consequences at many points in the novel, and this was something I really appreciated. All too often, something insanely dramatic will happen in a YA novel, and the characters will still somehow emerge unscathed. I’m thinking of examples like 99 Days by Katie Cotugno and Paper Princess by Erin Watt where these teenage characters can act horribly and treat each other basically like crap, and yet, maybe because they’re “young”, they aren’t at all held responsible. That doesn’t happen in Since You’ve Been Gone and I was relieved about that. Emily makes some questionable decisions over the course of the story, and so does her best friend Sloane, and they are both made accountable and forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions and how they affect others and make them feel. These are flawed and human characters, but they are also not living in a magical world where everything is bright and shiny in the end. Case and point is the status of Emily’s relationships with Dawn and Collins by the end of the novel…there is much that the characters must own up to, and I think Since You’ve Been Gone presents an appropriate model to teenage audiences of what can happen when certain mistakes are made and other people are hurt in the process.

The characters in Since You’ve Been Gone were also wonderfully layered and interesting. There was not a single stereotype in the bunch, and I also felt like I got to know the characters so well, even in so short a time, by getting a glimpse into their family lives and the affect on each of these teenagers that having slightly distracted parents had on them. What was most refreshing for me, however, were the characterizations of Emily and Frank. In most, if not all, the YA novels I’ve read, the guy is the jock and the girl is the brain – this seems to just be an age old plotline that has been recycled far too many times over the years. What I loved about Since You’ve Been Gone is that Emily is the cross country runner with an athletic personality and stamina, and Frank, the main love interest, is an incredibly studious character who is student body president and spends his summers in academic enrichment programs rather than at football or hockey camp. Maybe this isn’t something that most other readers would find significant, but I was immediately impressed by Matson’s decision to take a less traditional and cliché approach to her YA romance, and I also appreciated that there was no instalove whatsoever, and Emily and Frank are great friends before they ever have any romantic feelings for each other. Add to that the laugh out loud moments when a character, like Beckett or Emily’s well-meaning but often bumbling dad, said something particularly hilarious, and you truly have a recipe for a standout YA novel.

There is simply A LOT to love about Since You’ve Been Gone, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and am so glad I picked it up, particularly just as the summer is ramping up. I would highly recommend it as the perfect beach read in every way!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

My Favourite Passages:

“My hair was brown, pin-straight, and long, hitting halfway down my back, but anytime I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested. ‘You have such princess hair,’ she’d said. ‘Anyone can have short hair.’”

“The day after my pizza ride-along, I’d stopped by Captain Pizza to say hi, making sure to glower at Bryan as I did so. I figured he deserved it – not only for what he’d done to Dawn, but also because he’d been wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors.”

“‘Do you not like the Beatles?’ Frank asked, sounding shocked, as we finished our cool-down and started walking back toward my house. ‘Do you also not like sunshine and laughter and puppies?’”

“She was my heart, she was half of me, and nothing, certainly not a few measly hundred miles, was ever going to change that.”

Some Beatles Songs to Listen to While Reading Since You’ve Been Gone:

  • Here Comes The Sun
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • Eight Days A Week
  • Yesterday
  • She Loves You
  • Something
  • We Can Work It Out
  • All You Need Is Love

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart