The N and the G

I could’ve called myself anything on this blog – but I chose Janille N G.

You all know the story of the Green Heart by now. I’ve talked at length about why I named this blog The World of my Green Heart, and why the symbol of the green heart is so significant to me. (Future tattoo, perhaps? More on this one day soon!)

What I’ve never talked about, though, is why I decided to sign my posts and make all my social media accounts under the name Janille N G. It is my name, rest assured. But why do I include my middle initial? And why am I so attached to my last initial as well? Why not just be Janille and leave it at that?

The N comes from my maternal grandmother. She was an absolute sight to behold, I am told – the most gorgeous, classy woman, with an Audrey Hepburn-esque style and a sophistication that exuded from her every perfect pore. She came to Canada from Lebanon when she was just a teenager, and with her remarkable determination, she picked up both English and French fluently. She leant me (and my mom) our raven black hair and our sparkling brown eyes, as well as our affection for red lipstick. I have also been told that she was the kindest, most caring and generous woman that ever graced this Earth. Not a single person I have ever met has an ill word to say about my grandmother, and on the contrary, I have been told so many amazing stories about her that she has become this overwhelmingly impressive figure in my mind. And I am absolutely certain that she would have adored my fiancé and wrapped him in her arms as if he were her own grandson.

My grandmother passed away at the very young age of 57 after a long battle with breast and ovarian cancer. I was a year old. But whenever I have had the choice, on my university diploma, on all my IDs, on my marriage license, I have chosen to include my middle name in honour of her. And of course, I knew I wanted to include my middle initial as part of my identity on my blog.

The G comes from my paternal grandfather. He was the life of the party, and was in some ways very different from me, from what I can tell. He was constantly joyful, loud and fun, not bogged down by any anxieties or fears. I am told he had the kindest heart and was loved by literally every person he ever met. A true Italian to the core, he was fiercely loyal to his family, providing for them in every manner, but also encouraging my grandmother to get out of her comfort zone. I firmly believe he would have been the perfect grandparent for me to hang out with – I can see him urging me to calm down about my school and work stresses, taking me out for a big breakfast and reminding me that he will love and be proud of me no matter what I do in my life. I can see him at my university graduation, cheering louder than anyone and being impressed by the ambiance and mystique of it all. And I can clearly see him as the heart and soul of my wedding day, encouraging everyone to get on their feet and dance the night away. He had a larger than life personality!

My grandfather passed away at the devastatingly young age of 47 after a long battle with kidney and bone cancer. I was months away from being born. This is a story that absolutely breaks my heart whenever I think about it, particularly now as I am about to get married. My own father has now surpassed his father’s age, my grandmother lost her beloved husband when they were only 47 years old…that is too young, much much too young. What’s hardest for me to fathom, though, is the fact that I was so close to being born when he died. He was months away from becoming a grandfather (I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family), but unfortunately the doctors couldn’t tell my parents if I was a boy or a girl because I was flipped on my freakin’ head or something. So, my grandfather never got to learn if he would have a grandson or a graddaughter…and so many times when I was young, I wanted to just have the power to go back in time and poke him on the shoulder and say, Hey! It’s me, I was a girl! But I can’t do that, and I never will be able to.

I don’t know if I believe in God, but I have to believe that both my grandparents can see me now, as I plan the wedding I have always dreamed of. And, of course, they have become my Something Old as I will be sewing small pieces of their old clothing into my wedding dress.

When it came time to decide whether or not I wanted to change my name after marriage, the choice was easy for me. I have always known that I want to keep my name exactly as it is, mainly because I am so attached to what it represents and who it honours. My fiancé adamantly agreed (his own mother never changed her name), and so I intend to remain Janille N G for the rest of my life.

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

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The Persian ~ Le Personnage Principal of A Christmas Fairytale

All signs led to him.

“I was immensely interested by this story of the Persian. I wanted, if there were still time, to find this valuable and eccentric witness. My luck began to improve and I discovered him in his little flat in the Rue de Rivoli….I also went into the past history of the Persian and found that he was an upright man, incapable of inventing a story that might have defeated the ends of justice.”

~ The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

Long before I read a single Victorian novel, I was obsessed with a different story. The musical The Phantom of the Opera was my absolute favourite story from the moment my grandfather first took me to see it when I was in elementary school. Something about the heartbreaking love story (which is so similar to my favourite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, in many ways) touched me profoundly, and my passion for the music, characters and eventually the original French text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra has been ingrained on my heart for what feels like my entire life. I sincerely believe in the power of music on the human soul, and the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera has very much been the soundtrack to my life – it is the music I instantly turn to when I am stressed, the opening notes from The Point of No Return are my alarm clock tone, and I have derived infinite pleasure from seeing the musical on more than half a dozen occasions, in many different cities around the world.

Years later, when I started studying the French language, I picked up Gaston Leroux’s novel and flew through it. This was a turning point for me, when I realized that I did in fact understand French…and that I absolutely adored the language. I would not be even close to where I am today, in terms of my education and my career, if I didn’t speak French, and I credit my desire to pursue the language all throughout my schooling to my first experience of reading and loving Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The text branded itself on my heart alongside Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous music.

I remember distinctly when I was in third year university and stressed out of my mind studying for my French exams (ironically). That was the year that the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera was performed at the Royal Albert Hall (again, ironic, considering that the venue is named after one Prince Albert of England), and lucky for me, it was broadcast by Cineplex at a theatre only 10 minutes away from my home. I bought tickets as soon as I learned they were on sale, and since I was single at the time, I dragged my mom with me to the theatre. I was truly and utterly blown away by the production, and I became attached to the portrayal of the characters by Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser and most particularly Ramin Karimloo. Karimloo performed as The Phantom, and although I will always be loyal to my first Phantom, Colm Wilkinson, Karimloo totally blew me out of the water with his incredible voice and tortured portrayal of one of my favourite characters. I was obsessed, and I went home and Googled him immediately, purchasing as many of his CDs as I could. I learned that Karimloo was Iranian born and had moved to Toronto when he was a child. He grew up in Toronto, where he first saw The Phantom of the Opera, and because of Colm Wilkinson, decided to pursue acting and singing. I didn’t know much about Iran, but somewhere in my searching I read that Iranians are often referred to as Persian…whatever that meant. It certainly wasn’t relevant to me at the time.

Flash forward to just over a year later, when a bookish girl who believed in nothing more than True Love sat down across from a kind, gentle, loving boy. He asked for her phone number, after only moments of speaking to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. In an attempt to get to know this new guy who had entered my life and who seemed to be taken with me, I started texting my now fiancé before our first date, asking him some key facts about himself. One of these questions was his nationality, to which he replied Persian.

Persian… Persian… I scratched my head at that one and asked my mom where exactly Persia was on the map. Turns out, it isn’t on there anymore and my mom (who is Lebanese) explained that Persian people hailed from Iran. Then, it hit me…Ramin! He was Persian! Well, if that sexy, brilliant singer was Persian, then I was certainly planning to give this new guy a chance. I went on my first date with SS with an open mind and heart. (Imagine my disappointment, though, when I learned early on that he couldn’t sing. Haha!)

It wouldn’t be until years later, when I was studying the text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra again that it all came back in a flash. The Persian…arguably the most influential and significant character in Leroux’s novel. He is written out of the musical adaptation for reasons of keeping the plot concise, I can only assume, but he is the character that is responsible for most if not all of the action in the novel. He is the one who guides Raoul down to the Phantom’s lair to save Christine. He is an intimate friend of Erik, the Phantom. And, he is only ever referred to as The Persian. How could I forget this character? And if the text of this novel was stamped on my heart…then perhaps a Persian man was there too, long before I ever met my very own Persian man in real-life.

References to Persian rugs and artifacts abound in Victorian literature too. They’re seriously everywhere. Was I perhaps, then, being led toward SS throughout my entire life?

It’s funny how Fate works. I remember vividly that in high school, I was constantly looking for signs from the universe that my crush was my future husband. If his name was whispered in my vicinity, or I saw an object we had talked about or that was somehow associated with him, I took it as this notice from Fate that yes, in fact we would end up together. But, needless to say, we didn’t, and in the years before I met SS, I often wondered what the point of all those signs was. Now, I realize, I was looking at the wrong signs; I was being distracted, led away from realizing that a Persian man had always played a role in my life, from childhood, and that one Persian man in particular would become the love and light of my life.

There are tricky and problematic things about Iran, no question…but now that I know a thing or two about Persian people and their culture, I can say that they are warm and genuine, caring and good, and I am very lucky to have a number of them in my life. Ramin, of course, with his voice that soothes me when I’m stressed. And, my fiancé especially, whose very presence in my life is something I consider a real miracle.

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

A Letter to Mr. Rochester

Dear Mr. Rochester–

My name is Janille N G and we first became acquainted eight years ago. I do not expect you to remember me, as I am sure you meet many new people each year, most specifically young women. We have, however, rekindled our acquaintance multiple times over the course of the last eight years, and I have thought of you, and indeed of your dear wife Jane, often. I have particularly been thinking of you both this past year, and it is with this in mind that I decided to write you this letter.

Sir, I write to you mainly to express once and for all that I am your greatest advocate and biggest fan. When I first met you, I admit that I knew nothing of you at all and knew not what to expect. None of my acquaintances had met or spoken to you, save for my literature teacher who urged me to make time to meet you and Jane. I knew very little about your country of origin, your culture or the time period during which you lived, but I was eager to learn all of this. What I did not expect was that I would learn a great deal about myself, and about love and relationships, through my interactions with you and Jane.

I should also mention before I proceed, sir, that I am on the cusp of becoming married. I am engaged to a man who is both like you in many, unexpected ways but who is also distinctly himself. While he has never met you personally, I have spoken very highly of both you and Jane, and my dear fiancé considers you both among his friends. He and I have used your relationship with Jane as a model for our own throughout our time together, and I particularly have thought of you both regularly as I prepare to take on the role of wife. I have supported my own internal meditations by reading texts inspired by your relationship with Jane, first the gothic and macabre novel Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, and most recently the biography of your own life Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. There are only two people who can reasonably confirm any details of your life and history – yourself and Miss Charlotte Brontë – but (and I hope you will not think it too forward of me to say this) I have always felt a sincere kinship toward you and I feel that I can state with confidence that Ms. Shoemaker has done an excellent job of describing your past. Although much of what she writes is mere conjecture, from what I know having met you many times in my life, Ms. Shoemaker seems to have hit the nail on the head, as they say, with her characterization and portrayal of you as a man at times mercurial and stern, but also deeply loving, passionate and sensitive. Again, I hope you will not find it presumptuous of me to profess this opinion.

What Ms. Shoemaker brought to the forefront of my mind, sir, is your identity as a husband – not only to Jane, but also to your first wife, Ms. Bertha Antoinetta Mason. I apologize if any allusion to your first marriage is painful or unwelcome, but I am of the opinion that you became the man I hold in such high esteem, and whom Jane is clearly very fond of, during this first, albeit tragic, union. As I stated previously, I have always been and will continue to be your firmest advocate, but there are those who have chosen to criticize you for your actions towards Bertha, saying that it was heartless and criminal to keep her locked in a secluded attic. What I have learned, since finishing Ms. Shoemaker’s account of your life, is that you honestly and truly tried your best to do right by Bertha. I always somewhat blindly supported your actions because I so desperately adored your relationship with Jane, but now I have come to see how complicated and dismal the matter really was for you. How could you care for a woman who struggled with such severe mental illness while still maintaining your own sanity? How could you honour her family’s desire to keep her out of an asylum? It was admirable of you to insist that she remain at home with you, and surely you cannot be blamed for managing in whatever means you thought most safe and secure. Perhaps you didn’t have a full understanding of Bertha’s ailment, but who can blame you, considering the times in which you lived and the lack of knowledge and information on this subject. I firmly believe that you did your best, and it is clear that Ms. Shoemaker agrees. I personally would not hesitate to defend you on this point.

With all that said, I still find it hard to accept the way you handled this subject with regards to Jane. I will always feel that it would have been best for you to mention your history with Bertha to Jane from the very beginning. As I enter into a marriage of my own, I sincerely hope that my future husband and I will never have the urge nor the occasion to lie to one another as you did to Jane. But, again, I understand that you were in a difficult position, and love does in many ways make us fearful and anxious, for there is nothing worse than the prospect of lost love.

Mr. Rochester, I apologize for my ramblings and for making you read this long missive, but as I said, I have found myself thinking of you often of late. You were, truth be told, the first man I ever felt a profound love and affection for, not in the sense that I would ever want to take you from Jane, but in the sense that I sincerely wished and hoped to one day meet a man like you. Of course, I am very glad that my fiancé doesn’t have a wife hidden in his attic (that I know of), but I am also supremely happy that he is my best friend, my greatest earthly companion, my true second self and kindred spirit. I never imagined that I would be able to meet someone with whom to have a bond as strong as you have with Jane, but I will admit that I kept your image in my heart for many years as a reminder of what sort of companionship I desired. When I met my future husband for the first time, you were in my heart, and you will continue to reside in it now, as I embark on my own journey of marriage. I will forever be grateful to have you as my guide.

I am happy that you found your peace and happiness, and that you continue to live with Jane in utter harmony and adoration. My kind regards and warmest wishes to Jane and to your children. I have no doubt that I will see you all again very soon.

With much gratitude and affection,

Janille N G

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) for Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, which reminded me how special Edward Fairfax Rochester is (not that I could ever forget).

Jane Steele ~ #JNGReads

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is an excellent read! I highly recommend this one to fans of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre because it is a lot of fun, and offers a surprising spin on Brontë’s original classic.

I decided to read Jane Steele for two reasons: the first is that my best friend and fellow avid reader, CV, has been recommending it to me for at least a year; the second is that, as I get closer and closer to my Victorian-inspired wedding, I am planning to read as many novels related to Jane Eyre as possible, ending with an actual re-read of the classic a week before my wedding. Jane Steele marks the first novel I chose to read as part of what I am affectionately calling The Jane Eyre Initiative of 2017. And, I’ll start by bluntly stating that I am very glad I finally decided to read Faye’s book. It is not perfect by any means: there are some flaws with it that create a bit of confusion for the reader that is hard to overlook (and which necessarily caused me to decrease my overall rating of the book by 1 star). However, Jane Steele is extremely entertaining, and it is remarkable to me how expertly Faye employs a Victorian narrative voice. It really felt as though I was reading a traditional Victorian novel, and I liked Jane Steele instantly because of how forthright, honest and transparent she is both as a narrator and as a character. Whereas at times we are called, as readers, to question the narrative that Jane Eyre presents to us as well as feel frustration about her inability to fully express her emotions to the other characters in Brontë’s novel, Jane Steele is 100% honest with her audience about her preoccupations and concerns, and she is also an open book with the characters she interacts with. All of this allowed me to trust Jane Steele while simultaneously feeling empathy toward her. I wasn’t expecting to like her as much as I did, but I find now that she has become one of my favourite narrators that I’ve encountered in a long time.

Not only is Jane Steele an impressive and unique character, the story she tells is also unlike anything I’ve read in a while. To piggyback on what other reviewers have said, Jane Steele is NOT a retelling of Jane Eyre; instead, it is an entirely new story with similarities to that of Miss Eyre (more on this in a moment). The plot, characters and locations resemble those in Brontë’s much beloved novel, but there is enough distinction to make it clear that Jane Steele is its own story. It is also very fascinating that Jane Steele herself reads Jane Eyre, and as a narrator, she makes many references to Jane Eyre and to Jane’s character. She also quotes pieces of Jane Eyre at the start of each one of her own chapters, which is a delightful treat and which also indicates to the reader what is to come in the chapter. Jane Steele feels almost like a love letter to Jane Eyre; it is as if a huge fan of Jane Eyre (such as myself) decided to write her own story while constantly making allusions to how Jane Eyre has influenced and shaped her life and character. That is precisely what Jane Steele does: she tells her OWN, distinct story, while continually mentioning how Jane Eyre has made an impact on the woman she is. I absolutely loved how this was approached by Faye because I could see myself doing the exact same thing if I were to write a memoir!

There’s also so much to love about Jane Steele as a work of fiction itself: it is dark, macabre and gothic, but there are also moments of sarcasm and wit (particularly between Jane and her love interest, Mr. Thornfield) that take the reader pleasantly by surprise. Jane Steele is a bit ballsier than Jane Eyre, and she isn’t afraid to flirt, swear and generally hold her own in a conversation. She is not the governess who hides behind the curtain or shrinks into the wallpaper. Faye also does an excellent job portraying Indian culture in her treatment of the new occupants of Highgate House, and I truly felt as though she handled the concept of the “other” with tact and expertise. I found myself becoming so interested in the culture of Sahjara and Sardar Singh, and the overall ambience at Highgate House was warm, inviting and intoxicating. There wasn’t a character in the entire novel that I didn’t like; even Jane’s awful aunt Barbary and cousin Edwin were portrayed in a way that made them necessary to the structure of the story and that added something significant to the plot and to Jane’s character.

Honestly, there’s not much not to love about Jane Steele because it is just the wildest ride and is so well-written! Having said that, I couldn’t give it a full 5-star rating and that is actually down to the fact that I think it relied too heavily on similarities to Jane Eyre at points. As I mentioned, I really liked the fact that Jane Steele is a huge fan of Jane Eyre and that she uses this affection and passion as a tool to write her own memoir. The references to points in Jane Eyre that resemble moments in her own life, as well as the inclusion of important quotes from Jane Eyre, was really well done and not something I at all had an issue with. Instead, I found problematic the fact that much more of Jane Steele’s life resembles and is nearly identical to Jane Eyre’s life, and yet Jane Steele fails to mention or highlight these aspects. For example, the very fact that Jane Steele’s name is Jane or that her love interest’s name is Mr. Thornfield, which is obviously a nod to the setting of Jane Eyre, Thornfield Hall…to me, it is strange that Jane Steele wouldn’t mention what a coincidence it is that so many of the names of people she encounters line up with those in her favourite novel. I don’t know how to properly articulate this, but it almost felt as though Faye was dropping hints to the reader about how similar Jane Steele’s story is to Jane Eyre’s, and yet she fails to make those hints visible to the fan of Jane Eyre she creates herself, Jane Steele. It’s almost like Faye wants the reader to say, Oh hey, that’s a cute nod to Jane Eyre! while simultaneously making her own character oblivious to this connection. It was a bit confusing to me. In the same vein, it made no sense to me that Jane Steele also has a tumultuous relationship with her aunt and cousin, and also attends a horrendous boarding school, and yet doesn’t address the fact that these details are so close to those endured by her literary heroine. It felt to me that Jane Steele’s trajectory was TOO SIMILAR to Jane Eyre’s in many regards…I would’ve preferred if instead, Jane Steele’s story diverged more clearly from that of Jane Eyre in terms of major plot points, but without omitting the moments when Jane Steele reflects on how Jane Eyre shaped her identity.

The best way to explain this clearly is probably to use myself as an example: I read Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in grade 12, and it hugely shaped who I am in terms of my ideals, my literary preferences, my passions, etc. In many ways, my life resembles Jane’s in that I have had to stand up to authority figures on multiple occasions, in that I worked as an English tutor to young children for many years, and in that I stumbled upon my fiancé unexpectedly and he, much like Mr. Rochester, has a checkered past of romantic foibles. There are more examples of how I identify with Jane Eyre, and more become clear to me every day, BUT my life is not identical to Jane in ways that are major and impossible to overlook: I am not an orphan, I did not attend a boarding school, I did not work as a governess in an employer’s home, etc. So, were I to write a memoir, I would absolutely emphasize the points in my own story that remind me of Jane Eyre’s and make frequent reference to Charlotte Brontë’s novel and the influence it has had on me, but my life would not come across as eerily similar to Jane’s. I feel like Faye should’ve taken this approach to Jane Steele: yes, it is a great idea to make Jane Steele’s story harken back to Jane Eyre’s in subtle ways, but to have these overwhelmingly obvious plot points that are identical to those in Jane Eyre, or to give characters names that are identical to those used in Jane Eyre, seemed too heavy-handed to me. I simply wish that Jane Steele was a touch more unique and didn’t rely on Jane Eyre’s plot so frequently…and I think that these glaring similarities are what make readers think Jane Steele is a Jane Eyre retelling, which it most certainly is not and which is an assumption that I believe takes away from how poignant and brilliant Jane Steele is in its own right.

Overall, Jane Steele was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As I said, a few things about the plot could’ve been tweaked to give it more credibility as a unique, new and fresh story, but I would still highly recommend it and I may even read it again one day.

My Favourite Quotes from Jane Steele

(To entice you to pick it up because it is just so well-written!)

“I felt these insults, reader, and I collected them, strung them like sand hardened pearls, and I wore them, invisible; I wear them today.”

If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it: I will be another embodied disaster.

But I will be a beautiful disaster.

“Swallowing, I placed the cheque in my reticule with the two letters. I did this, reader, because the most idiotic thing Jane Eyre ever did other than to leave in the first place was to depart without her pearl necklace and half Mr. Rochester’s fortune, which he would gladly have given her. If she had been eaten by a bear upon fleeing penniless into the wilderness, I should have shaken that bear’s paw.”

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were a Movie ~ #JNGWatches & #JNGWeds

Why would anyone have a Christmas wedding?

Isn’t that time of year busy enough already?

Welcome to wedding month here at The World of my Green Heart!

That’s right, my wedding is only ONE MONTH away, and it’s high time to hunker down and let all you dear Readers in on some of the details of my Big Day. Obviously, once the day has come and gone, I’ll be posting pictures like mad and discussing exactly how it went…but, there are also a few aspects of the planning process I’d like to discuss with you all before I tie the knot. So, with that in mind, I’ll be publishing wedding-inspired posts from now until the wedding day, amongst my regular book reviews and literary posts.

Let’s start off by addressing those questions above, which I’ve heard on a semi-regular basis ever since I started planning my Christmas wedding. I get it, people – Christmas is a stressful time for some. I personally don’t get it because I don’t see how anyone could be sad or frustrated at such a beautiful time of year, but fine, I accept that there are a lot of people who do. Why they think they can criticize my wedding is beyond me, but I’ve grown a thicker skin in recent years than I expected I ever would, so to the “haters” I say, Bring it on!

That being said, it is a valid question in some regards – having a Christmas wedding is quite unique, so I do always like to offer an explanation for why I have ALWAYS wanted a Christmas wedding…

Much of it stems from my love of the Victorian era, no doubt about it. Very few people know this, but Queen Victoria (my one true queen, forever and always) and her beloved husband Prince Albert were the two monarchs that popularized the celebration of Christmas, as we know it today. Many of the traditions they established were of German origin, which makes sense when you consider that both Albert as well as Victoria’s mother were German, and these very traditions became popular worldwide in the 1840’s and 1850’s. If you don’t believe me that we still follow the Victorian model when celebrating Christmas to this very day, you need only look so far as the nearest Christmas tree: Prince Albert was the man who brought the Christmas tree to Britain, so we have him to thank for the décor and atmosphere we so appreciate in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But, I’m not going to lie, I developed this urge to have a Christmas wedding long before I ever read my first Victorian novel (which was, naturally, Jane Eyre). It all started back when I was in early high school and began religiously (considering I’m not religious at all, I am using that word consciously) watching Hallmark movies every Christmas. A lot of people find these to be the cheesiest movies on the planet, and that’s totally fine…but ever since I watched my first one, I was totally captivated! Yup, everything ends up happy, every single time. Yup, the characters are pretty simple and have relatively drama-free lives. Yup, True Love prevails, always. What is there not to love about that? These movies follow basic plot structures and archetypes, but if you actually sit down to analyze them, you’ll see that many of these structures come from the Victorian novel genre, in which the story ends with a marriage or a happily ever after union, and all the strife and stress is replaced by the most ideal and romantic love that ever existed on this planet. How is a Hallmark movie very different from Jane Eyre? It isn’t, I would argue, and perhaps my penchant for Victorian tales is not so difficult to figure out after all, considering my forever love of the Hallmark movie genre.

With all that said, I want to leave you with a list of my all-time favourite (until next year, anyway) Hallmark/TV Christmas movies. I sincerely believe that my fiancé and I have a romance like something out of one of these movies, and so what better way to celebrate it than with the most epic Christmas wedding?

The Very Best Hallmark/TV Christmas Movies

(Long live the Hallmark Channel!)

  1. Merry Matrimony
  2. December Bride

~ These two movies both star Jessica Lowndes, who is beautiful but also absolutely adorable and sugary sweet. I kid you not, they were the inspiration for much of the décor of my wedding – poinsettias and evergreens, holly and mistletoe, reds and greens and golds. I made my fiancé watch both these films recently and I told him, “See that…that’s the wedding we’re going to have!” And we seriously are!

  1. A Bride for Christmas

~ The name says it all. Again, this movie features a wedding (I doubt that’s a spoiler at this point) which features a giant and absolutely gorgeous Christmas tree! A large Christmas tree smack dab in the middle of your wedding venue? Why didn’t I think of that? Oh wait, I did…all because of this movie!

  1. The Mistletoe Promise

~ This movie is a bit funnier, wittier and sexier than your average Hallmark movie. The two main characters don’t really believe in love and aren’t looking for a serious relationship…but of course, we all know that’s not going to last long!

  1. A Holiday Engagement

~ If this movie doesn’t make you cry, particularly when the main character sings, then you’re heartless…or just not a Christmas softie like I am. In any case, this is one of my fiancé’s favourite Christmas movies.

  1. Love You Like Christmas

~ This is another of my fiancé’s favourites, which we only discovered recently. I myself am also particularly fond of the storyline where a hardworking protagonist realizes that they’re giving too much of themself to their career and decides to slow down a little and open themself up to love.

  1. A Christmas Kiss

~ There are at least three movies in this “series” that I know of, each of them revolving around an unexpected Christmas kiss which I am 100% down for! These movies are a lot of fun!

  1. Holiday High School Reunion (aka Christmas Crush)
  2. A Crown for Christmas
  3. A Royal Christmas

~ Rachel Boston, Danica McKellar and Lacey Chabert can do no wrong as leads. Enough said. Watch anything they’re in ASAP!

  1. Once Upon a Holiday

~ A recent favourite of mine that I unexpectedly found on Netflix and LOVED! This is a bit of a role reversal, where the female lead is the royal and she falls in love with a man that is not royal. It’s freaking AWESOME and Briana Evigan and Paul Campbell are absolute PERFECTION!

This list could seriously go on and on because while writing this post, I swear I thought of about 10 other movies you should all watch. But, let’s start with this (substantial) list, shall we?

Go grab a cuppa hot cocoa and get crackin’! And let me know what you think of these films below…

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Ugly Love ~ #JNGReads

As it turns out, I’m not a fan of Colleen Hoover.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion and one I fear I may be crucified for. But, I have my reasons, which I am hoping to clearly explain in this review of Ugly Love. I have only read two books by Colleen Hoover in my life, both during this year. The first was It Ends with Us; by the time I finished that novel, I had the sense that I really enjoyed it, but I think that had a lot to do with how emotional it was in the end and how powerful the subject matter was. When I look back, I find that I don’t remember the characters that well and I don’t feel like I truly connected to any of them in a lasting sort of way. I also distinctly remember not being able to get into Hoover’s writing style, and finding it somewhat annoying in places. However, I have heard so many great things about Hoover’s writing that I knew I would eventually have to give another one of her books a try.

For all these reasons, when I was in Chapters days before my birthday trying to decide what book to use my birthday Plum Rewards coupon on, I made my way to the Colleen Hoover section. I thought maybe, since I had a coupon and wouldn’t be spending too much money on the book, I could afford to pick up another one of hers to feel like I gave her the good ol’ college try! I don’t know why Ugly Love caught my attention because I had never heard of it before, but it did, and I found myself flipping to a random page and reading a few lines that really made me eager to delve into the whole novel. I think it was a part where Tate is feeling particularly heartbroken and lost about her “relationship” with Miles and I just felt like I couldn’t put the book back down and abandon the characters.

But honestly, I wish I did. This is not to say that the book is bad, whatsoever; on the contrary, I didn’t hate reading it at all. I just didn’t find that I loved or even liked reading it, and I believe that it just wasn’t worth it for me to pick up this novel right now, in a year when I have read some absolutely amazing stories that were of course going to overshadow one like this. It simply wasn’t the right time for me to pick up Ugly Love, and although I don’t think I would’ve really liked it no matter when I picked it up, I don’t think I would’ve been quite so annoyed with it if I picked it up, say, midway through next year instead. It felt a bit like a waste of my time right now.

Why did I feel this way about this book? Well, as I said there are a few reasons actually, each of which I will go through in turn…

Firstly, I didn’t like any of the characters. Period. This is a huge deal for me because I’m more interested in the characters in any book I read than in any single other detail (including world building and plot structure). I connect to characters fiercely and vehemently, and when that doesn’t happen for me, I find it really hard to enjoy a story. For some people, maybe hating characters is a strong enough emotion to entertain them, but for me it’s just not; I have to LOVE, or at the very least like, at minimum one of the main characters or I find it really hard to like a novel. In the case of Ugly Love, both Tate and Miles annoyed me to NO END. Listen, we’ve all been there or seen people who are there: in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to fall in love and is vocal about that, yet still adamant that we can change them and convince them to have feelings for us, because we’re freaking amazing and no one can love them better! I’m not arguing that this isn’t a realistic scenario or that we don’t all kind of do some arguably pretty stupid things in these sorts of situations. Been there, done that…guilty as charged! What annoyed me about Tate and Miles, though, is that everything is sooo over the top and melodramatic. I get it, Miles went through an awful tragedy and I’m not disputing that…but the guy is WEIRD! It’s almost like he’s a sociopath at times and he’s emotionally abusive in many ways. What drove me most crazy, though, is how Tate responds to that. She LIKES IT! Okay, I don’t want to judge someone else’s relationship, but what bothers me is that Tate recognizes and vocalizes on several occasions that she is NOT happy and that she feels like Miles is controlling or (Hoover’s favourite word in Ugly Love) “invading” her, and yet she does nothing to stop it. She even talks about how apparently powerless she is to leave him, and I just wasn’t a fan of this. I like my heroines to be strong, self-assured and confident and Tate did not strike me as any of those things.

“Now he knows exactly how much I’m not Tate when I’m near him. I’m only liquid. Conforming. Doing what he asks, doing what I’m told, doing what he wants me to do.”

“‘Make me leave,’ [Miles] says, his voice pleading and warm against my throat. ‘You don’t need this.’ He’s kissing his way up my throat, breaking for breath only when he speaks. ‘I just don’t know how to stop wanting you. Tell me to go and I’ll go.’

I don’t tell him to go. I shake my head. ‘I can’t.’

I turn my face toward his just as he’s worked his way up to my mouth, then I grab his shirt and pull him to me, knowing exactly what I’m doing to myself. I know this time won’t end any prettier than the other times, but I still want it just as much. If not more.”

Secondly, I did not like how Ugly Love was written, and based on my similar experience with It Ends with Us, I’m leaning towards believing that I just don’t vibe with Hoover’s writing style. I’ve read a few reviews that talked about how repetitive Hoover’s writing is, and I 100% agree with that; the thing is, though, that it’s not just repetitive in terms of literal words or sentences (although, believe me, it is that too), it’s also repetitive in terms of concepts. If I have to read one more page of Tate discussing how scared she is that her thing, whatever it is, with Miles is going to end poorly, or one more page of Miles spouting how much he loves Rachel and everything is Rachel and the sun rises and sets for Rachel, I will seriously rip my hair out. It was fine in the beginning to read about these sorts of emotions, but it got old fast. Other than having a fair number of steamy sex scenes, nothing actually happens in the book, and that left me truly disappointed.

Thirdly, and along the same vein, what was up with the chapters in Miles’ point of view verging into verse? Nope, not feeling it, and from the reviews I’ve read, I’m not the only one! I have no issue with portions of verse in prose texts, but I do have an issue with it when the verse isn’t particularly good. Miles is not a poet, and clearly neither is Hoover, and so switching into verse when Miles got overly emotional just felt so damn cheesy that I couldn’t stand it after a while (well, actually, about 2 chapters into it). It felt very unnecessary for this to happen and it took me right out of the story and prevented me from connecting with Miles at some of the most crucial moments in the text. I feel that this was a very poor stylistic choice on Hoover’s part.

Damn, I really just s$@t all over this novel, didn’t I? I swear that wasn’t my intention but I just can’t find that many good things to say about it! It wasn’t awful at all…but it really wasn’t good either. At least not in my opinion, but if you love Hoover’s work, I’d say to give it a chance.

❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Royally Endowed ~ #JNGReads

Royally Endowed by Emma Chase is the third installment in the Royally series, which includes the novels Royally Screwed and Royally Matched. I came across both these books when I first started reading on my Kobo, and I devoured the steamy series within days. When I found out that the third book in the series was coming out, I knew I had to add it to my To-Read List immediately so that I could keep the other two stories fresh in my mind while reading this third one. With that in mind, I picked up Royally Endowed a few days ago and, once again, devoured it.

There’s no question that Emma Chase writes good romance novels. Yes, they are all very formulaic and follow the same basic structure, but Chase knows how to create sexy characters that her readers feel compelled to spend as much time with as possible. Her scenes are hot, but there’s also enough complexity to her stories to make them interesting and distinguish each of her male and female leads from one another. I have to say that I still think Royally Screwed is my favourite novel of the series, but this is only by a thin margin – Royally Endowed was a lot of fun and it was in many ways more realistic because although there were royal elements to the story, neither of the main characters are royal themselves, so the plot felt a bit less far-fetched and fairytale-like.

I really enjoyed Royally Endowed because it was exactly what I was expecting. No, it didn’t deliver anything more or blow me out of the water, but it was a quick, breezy read and I found myself truly liking Ellie and Logan as main characters. Ellie is quirky and confident and she has a bubbly and vibrant personality that stands out as quite unique. Logan is your typical romantic hero, edgy and troubled, conflicted and yet still soft and adoring. I liked Ellie and Logan together a lot, and there were exciting moments in the story that made me eager to read on as fast as possible.

It was also nice to encounter characters from the other two novels in the Royally series again, particularly Nicholas and Olivia and Queen Lenora. They were among my favourite characters in the first two books because I found the dynamic between the traditional and stoic Queen Lenora and her grandson Nicholas, who chooses to abdicate and marry a “commoner” Olivia, really interesting and enjoyable to read about. Ellie is actually Olivia’s little sister, and so it was also cool to get a more in-depth look at their sibling relationship and how marriage and boyfriends changes how they perceive one another.

All in all, I would recommend Royally Endowed because, like I said, it was a lot of fun. One thing that did bother me a bit, though, was the physical portrayal of Ellie. This is more a criticism I have of romance novels in general and is not necessarily limited to Royally Endowed: the main female protagonist in romance novels is always depicted as drop-dead gorgeous, with a toned and sculpted body that is curvy in only exactly the right places. It is always also implied that this physique requires little to no effort on the part of the female protagonist, who doesn’t go to the gym, doesn’t really eat that healthy, doesn’t have to do too much at all to look like a fitness model. I normally don’t have a problem with this sort of representation because it is a trademark of romance novels and I sort of think that a reader should know what’s coming when they go into reading a romance novel. Having said that, it did start to grate on my nerves a little in Royally Endowed, particularly because so much emphasis is put on Ellie’s body and how perfect it is (see the quote below). She isn’t your average woman whatsoever, and I kind of think it would be refreshing to one day read a romance novel with a female lead who is just like any one of us girls.

“Then she steps back and wiggles out of the snug silk gown, letting it pool around her feet, standing in nothing but tiny cream knickers and a matching lace bra. I avert my eyes, but not before the image of smooth legs, flat stomach, a snug heart-shaped arse and perky perfect breasts are branded permanently onto my brain.”

Nevertheless, I am happy that I chose to read Royally Endowed because I got through it easily and rapidly, and it was undoubtedly an entertaining ride! If you’ve read the other novels in the Royally series, you must pick this one up too!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Eligible ~ #JNGReads

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a remarkably entertaining read that I enjoyed very much!

This novel is part of a broader series called The Austen Project, in which contemporary authors rework and rewrite some of Jane Austen’s most popular works. Sittenfeld’s story Eligible adapts the plot of Pride and Prejudice and it is an incredibly unique and witty retelling of a much-lauded classic.

I should start my review by saying that Pride and Prejudice is not my favourite Austen novel. Although I definitely love the story itself, I never was able to fully connect to the characters because I find Austen’s writing style in Pride and Prejudice to be too unemotional and almost scientific. That being said, I really love Austen’s novels Emma and (my personal favourite) Persuasion, and so I think that I just have a mental block toward Pride and Prejudice because I have seen it adapted into films so many times and yet feel that the actual text is devoid of much of the feeling and sentiment ascribed to it in popular culture. However, there is no doubt that Austen was a genius of literature, and I absolutely have a fondness in my heart for Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, and all the cast and characters of Pride and Prejudice.

So, I was excited to give Eligible a try and see how Sittenfeld would adapt Austen’s novel about social hierarchies and personal biases to a contemporary time and setting. And, I am happy to report that Sittenfeld does an awesome job of sticking to Austen’s important plot points while tweaking details slightly to fit within the 21st century. There are many things about Pride and Prejudice that would seemingly be hard to incorporate in a modern setting (such as Bingley and Darcy’s wealth, for example), but Sittenfeld manages to find creative ways to account for these things, such as making Bingley a reality TV star and Darcy a neurosurgeon with an old family estate. She even addresses the subtle racism and bigotry of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in ways that are very relevant, particularly by portraying how these characters (who act and speak as if they jumped right from Austen’s original text) would react when meeting transgender and homosexual characters, as an example. Although aspects of these interactions left me feeling a bit uncomfortable because I felt that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were extremely offensive and narrow-minded, I understood the statement that Sittenfeld was attempting to make with these characters and I appreciate that she pushed the envelope to show just how detrimental these attitudes and behaviours are. Often, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are said to be humorous, the comic relief of Pride and Prejudice (particularly in the film adaptations), but I think Sittenfeld is smart to investigate how very awful and unfunny it would be if they existed in our modern times…and how very unfunny it is that there are still people who think like they do nowadays. There was certainly a broader messages to these points in Sittenfeld’s text, and I respected what she was trying to do and think she did it quite well, given the lighter feel of Eligible as a whole.

What was most fascinating about Eligible was how expertly Sittenfeld captures the spirit and tone of Pride and Prejudice without resorting to parody. Sittenfeld doesn’t emulate or imitate Austen’s style per say, but she somehow manages to write with a voice that is so similar to Austen’s while still being firmly contemporary. It’s really hard to explain unless you’ve read the novel and I would rather not cite entire passages because it would give too much of the beauty and style away, but suffice it to say that I was VERY impressed with Sittenfeld’s writing and with her mastery of a voice that is at once Austen-esque but also distinctly her own. You get this sense that you are reading a great work of literature while immersed in Eligible, and yet somehow the novel still feels light and breezy and pleasurable to get through. It is in many ways the perfect blend of a classic literary style with the modern day enjoyment factor characteristic of romance novels.

I want to give Eligible 5 stars because I enjoyed reading it just that much, so I am going to. But that doesn’t mean that it is a perfect book by any standards. I can’t actually say that I liked any of the characters; I do really love Elizabeth and Jane Bennet as characters in Pride and Prejudice but, in Eligible, there were aspects of their characters that annoyed me quite a bit, such as Jane’s absolute lack of direction in her life and Liz’s justification of having a relationship with a married man. It also threw me off at first that Jane and Liz are in their very late 30’s, and while this makes sense given that no one in contemporary society would call a 20 year old an old maid or spinster, it still made it a bit hard for me to picture them engaged in these particular sorts of romantic and familial foibles. I also found Chip Bingley and Darcy to be somewhat flat characters and felt that their personalities were not explored as much as I would have liked because they just weren’t given that much attention in the novel. But, for some reason, these issues didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole or from my eagerness to read it, and I was able to accept that I might not like all of the characters, but I certainly was excited to read about and spend time with them.

Oh screw it, I’m going to provide a few quotes here, ones that I found particularly funny and well-written during my reading. If you want to avoid all spoilers (if that’s even possible considering the entire novel is a retelling), I suggest you not read the passages below…

~ “‘It’s probably an illusion caused by the release of oxytocin during sex,’ Darcy continued, ‘but I feel as if I’m in love with you. You’re not beautiful, and you aren’t nearly as funny as you think you are. You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition. And your family, obviously, is a disgrace. Yet in spite of all common sense, I can’t stop thinking about you. The time has come for us to abandon this ridiculous pretense of hate sex and admit that we’re a couple.’ Darcy had delivered this monologue stiffly, while mostly avoiding eye contact…”  CLASSIC DARCY! (And yes, that’s right, Liz and Darcy do have casual sex in this adaptation – surprising, but not altogether unrealistic!)

~ “Such compliments – they were thrilling but almost impossible to absorb in this quantity, at this pace. It was like she was being pelted with a magnificent hail, and she wished she could save the individual stones to examine later, but they’d exist with such potency only now, in this moment.”

~ “and then – outside the lodge, behind the boulder, he in a tuxedo and she in a lavender bridesmaid dress – their faces met and they kissed at such length that the kiss contained multiple phases, including the one in which they both were smiling, practically laughing, and the one in which she forgot where she was.” A highly Austen-esque description – veiled, logical and informative!

~ “she loved Darcy too much to try to prove her love to anyone except him.” ~

All in all, Eligible is a GREAT novel and one that I HIGHLY recommend to Austen fans! It was a thoroughly unique take on Pride and Prejudice unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, and certainly just as entertaining as the original!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

2 Mini-Reviews and an Update ~ #JNGReads …and reads…and reads!

Hello dear Readers and welcome to a midweek mini-update!

Remember when I wrote that post a short while ago, outlining the books I wanted to read to finish off 2017? Well, it turns out, I’m a faster reader than I thought because I blasted through the Six of Crows duology and found that, if I stuck to the reading plan as it was, I would be finished all of the books I wanted to read well before the end of December. While this would normally be a good thing because I could pick up some additional novels toward the end of the year and into 2018, I desperately want to finish my year with a re-read of Jane Eyre. I want to be reading that beloved favourite of mine when I get married (on December 22nd, specifically), and it only makes sense to position Jane Steele and Mr. Rochester just before that. So, with that particular plan for the very end of the year in mind, I decided last week to insert a few short, lighter reads into my plan before I reach the Jane Eyre-themed end of 2017.

I began by picking up two books that have been on my To-Read List for quite some time and that, fortunately for my plan, only took me a handful of days each to finish. With that being said, though, I didn’t have too much to say about either of them in terms of a proper review, so I decided to combine my thoughts on them into one post here on the blog. Below, you’ll find these reviews…and look for many more reviews coming as 2017 winds to a close!

Unfiltered by Lily Collins

Below is a review I posted on Goodreads for the non-fiction book Unfiltered by actress Lily Collins. I didn’t have much to say about the collection of essays, which I finished in 2 days’ time, so I did not feel it warranted its own blog post…

I don’t have too much to say about Unfiltered so I will keep my comments brief, as I am rather ambivalent about it.

This collection of essays by actress Lily Collins is fun and light, which is both a compliment and a criticism. I believe that its style is very accessible, particularly for readers in the young adult category. However, Collins does attempt to write about some important subject matter, such as her struggles with anorexia and bulimia and her experiences in an abusive relationship, and I felt that in these specific essays, she failed to dig as deeply as she could have. The book is replete with platitudes but there aren’t any really profound conclusions or morals to be drawn from it. Collins does a good job of presenting herself as just like any one of us, but that is mainly because she doesn’t give enough specifics about her personal struggles for the reader to feel like they truly understand her. I was a bit disappointed in that sense because I expected to learn new things about her as a person, but I found that I did not. I also wasn’t fond of the humble brags that seemed to abound in the text, and while I enjoy Collins’ acting and think she’s very beautiful, it annoyed me slightly that she professed to be amazing at so many different things, such as journalism and cooking. It was all a bit much for my liking, and although I’m sure she’s very talented at many things, I felt that her overt discussion of it distanced me from her and made it so that she wasn’t believable as the girl next door.

That being said, I enjoyed the collection well enough, and the pictures added a nice layer of intimacy to the text. It isn’t a masterpiece by any standards, but I think it would prove to be an enjoyable read for younger fans of Lily Collins, especially because she writes with a simplistic style and addresses a younger audience (rather than one that is closer to her own age of 28).

Overall, pleasant enough and a quick, easy read!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

I am a huge fan of Madeleine Wickham…or rather, I should say that I am a huge fan of her when she writes under her pen name, Sophie Kinsella. That’s right, the author of this little known chick lit. novel is in fact the hugely famous writer of the Shopaholic series, among other awesome stories (shout out to I’ve Got Your Number, my personal favourite!). Although I’ve read almost all of Kinsella’s novels, I had never picked up one of Wickham’s, until a few days ago.

I’ve owned Cocktails for Three for about three years now, since I picked it up at a used book sale. It sat on my bookshelf for all this time because I just never felt in the mood for it, having heard mixed reviews about the stories Kinsella writes under her real name. I always opted to read a “proper” Kinsella novel, rather than delving into Cocktails for Three, and I only picked up this novel this week because I wanted a quick read that I would be done with rapidly.

Well, Cocktails for Three is certainly a quick read, but it is also one that has left me conflicted. I both enjoyed it and found it very slow, and I couldn’t reconcile the fact that Wickham is Kinsella, and vice versa, because the tones and styles of their novels are just so different. Kinsella’s novels are effortlessly hilarious, replete with over-the-top but endearing characters whose dramatic lives still somehow seem to be relatable to the reader. Cocktails for Three is perhaps even more relatable in the sense that the characters are very average and every day, but for some reason, I just couldn’t make myself like any of the three main characters, Candice, Maggie and Roxanne. It wasn’t until about two thirds into the novel that I even enjoyed it at all, and I felt myself wavering between being excited by the story and feeling helplessly bored by it.

I think, as I just mentioned, my main reason for struggling with Cocktails for Three is that I didn’t find any of the female leads likable. They each have these flaws that are extremely difficult to look past and which I found pretty annoying: Candice is ridiculously naïve and innocent, to the point of making me want to slap her; Maggie is so unprepared for motherhood that she seems not to think it bad to drink or be around cigarette smoke while pregnant; and Roxanne is in the midst of a 6 year long affair with a married man, which is a story arc that has always rubbed me the wrong way, since I first began reading chick lit. I admit that, as I got halfway into the novel, I started to warm up to the three characters, but I still found it hard to ignore Roxanne’s immorality, Candice’s ignorance and Maggie’s selfishness. What’s more, there wasn’t really anything romantic about this novel, and while not every novel has to be a romance of course, I’ve grown so accustomed to how artfully Kinsella writes romance that it made me kind of sad to read a novel of hers that was love-free.

With all that said, somehow, I look back on the novel now and I feel like I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a favourite by any means, but I do have to admit that it breaks the chick lit. mold and doesn’t rely on stereotypes or clichés. I appreciate that, and while I didn’t love the story or the characters, I found the novel interesting enough and was overall happy and occupied while reading it.

This is certainly a hard one to rate… I think I’ll definitely give another novel by Wickham a chance in the future, to see if they all adhere to this slightly different style…but I probably will pick up another Kinsella novel first!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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