Pre-Baby Book Reviews ~ #JNGReads

Happy Hump Day, dear Readers!

I’m back this evening with a whole bunch of book reviews. I have to be honest, my intention was to hold onto these reviews and post them as part of bigger, themed entries with reviews for a few other books I’m hoping to read soon…but then, it hit me all of a sudden that my baby boy could come any day now (read my blog entry about not so patiently waiting for him here) and at that point, I might very well forget about posting these reviews I’ve had in my “back pocket” altogether. I have already posted them on Goodreads – that’s usually the first place I update as soon as I’ve finished a book, so if you’d like to join me over there, I’d love to chat books anytime!

Anyway, without further ado, here are some reviews for a bunch of books I’ve read recently. I very much hope that, even when my baby decides to join us, I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing whenever I have a spare moment.

Help Me by Marianne Power

I feel very conflicted about Marianne Power’s memoir of sorts about her time spent reading self-help books and attempting to better herself because of them.

On the one hand, I really did like Marianne’s voice. I found her funny, relatable and bubbly. I appreciated her frequent use of exclamation points (every sentence in my own text messages ends in one), and I thought that, despite her discussion of her depression and her quite constant putting down of herself, she came across as positive and optimistic. She seems like the type of person I could easily be friends with because she came across as, overall, very endearing and lovable.

But on the other hand, the discussion of each self-help book was tedious and annoying to me. I’m not really a self-help person myself, and although I’ve spent this year trying to come to terms with my anxiety, I haven’t actually picked up any cliché books like the ones Marianne does. I’m not trying to come across as stuck up or anything, but I do believe there are problems with a lot of self-help books out there, and they are similar to fad diets in the sense that it’s easy to become enamoured with them and jump on the bandwagon, only to go careening off it mere months later. Marianne recognizes that as well, which I really appreciated (otherwise, this book might’ve verged on insufferable), but she also does buy into a lot of the books when she is reading them, and that can be kind of frustrating as a reader who is a bit more…well…cynical and pessimistic, I suppose. I just couldn’t buy into everything Marianne was reading, and it made it hard for me to relate to her in the moments when she was buying into it all. It made me want to tell her, like her friends and family members do, to snap out of it and focus on reality instead, and my inability to do that through the pages of a book was hard for me.

Like I said, though, I continued to be a fan of Marianne from the first page to the last and I did find myself rooting for her. I just don’t know that I found there to be anything profound about this book as it almost read like a diary. It was personal and very raw in points, but it wasn’t a self-help book in itself, and so it didn’t help me on my own journey of understanding my anxiety at all. Not that I really expected it to, but it was certainly a lot more about Marianne’s experiences and life than I expected it to be, although that ended up being the thing I liked best about it, I think.

And, as I mentioned, Marianne does go through a really rough period of depression at one point of the book and she is blatantly and bravely honest about it. I respected that immensely and it was definitely the portion of the book I was able to engage with the most and take the most from. The quotes below are a good sampling of what Marianne talks about in this section, and I found myself re-reading them several times because they seemed to describe my own feelings as if Marianne was inside my head.

“‘I’m just tired,’ I said. Tired. How many times had I said that word when I didn’t know what else to say? When I didn’t know how to say I’m lost, I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel like I’m losing it…?”

“I have always been prone to getting down. It starts so gradually I don’t notice it. I start waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of non-specific panic and waking up in the morning with a feeling of dread and anxiety. Bit by bit this grows until it feels like the day – and the world – contains nothing but cliffs for me to fall off.”

“I thought it was normal to feel like the bottom of your world was falling out every day – I thought that was just how people felt. You just had to try harder, keep going, hope that one day it would get better. Also, being diagnosed as depressed was code for being a failure. For not being able to nail this life business.”

Okay, that all sounds really negative and makes it seem like this book is a big downer, but it really isn’t. Despite facing incredible lows, Marianne is able to feel happy a lot of the time and the book does end on an optimistic note. But, it’s also realistic and Marianne is honest about the fact that she might not feel happy every single day and that her whole life hasn’t been magically transformed, and that is alright. Having moments of joy and gratitude are sometimes enough.

Overall, I enjoyed Marianne’s writing style a lot and I would be interested to read her work as a journalist because I think she has a really witty voice. I perhaps didn’t love the subject matter of this book, but I did grow to like Marianne very much, so that made it a successful enough reading experience for me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I have never read The Odyssey. 

I am not a particular fan of Margaret Atwood…which, yes, does make me a bad Canadian, thanks for asking. 

But, The Penelopiad I thoroughly enjoyed! I read it entirely in one day. It would’ve been one sitting if I didn’t have obligations to attend to. I highly recommend this one as it might be the best Atwood work I’ve ever read. It was short but felt profound; it had many meaningful messages about what it means to be a woman (overshadowed and overpowered by a pompous but important man) and a wife, but was easy to digest. Overall, a GREAT read!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kiss of Deception, despite some obvious problems with it. I have to admit right off the bat that the story is a slow one and very much feels, by the end, like a precursor to bigger things to come in the rest of the series. Other reviewers have mentioned that the plot is very repetitive, and this is certainly true as it outlines main character Lia’s day-to-day life working as a waitress in a small town in minute detail. However, for some reason, I still found the story incredibly enjoyable to read and, when I sat down with it, I found myself turning the pages rapidly. It is true that not very much happened, but it was still quite entertaining and I felt compelled about halfway through it to go to my local bookstore and pick up the other two novels in the series so that I could begin them right after finishing this one. I also grew to really like Lia as a character by the end of the story, and I am curious to see if my interest in her will only grow as I get into the next book, or if my intrigue will wan. 

Overall, although this book wasn’t fabulous per say, it was pleasant to read and I did find myself being drawn in by Pearson’s writing style and her ability to weave together a story. I am very curious to see what comes next in spite of myself.

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

*Note: I do plan to continue this series and was intending to write a larger review of the entire thing at some point, so that is why this particular review is so short. Hopefully, I will get around to the rest of the series soon!*

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

How to Dress Like High Lord of the Night Court ~ SS Sponsored Post

Hello dear Readers and welcome to another post sponsored by my husband, SS! As you may already know if you’ve been keeping up with my posts here, my husband recently decided to read the A Court of Thorns and Roses … Continue reading

Summer Series ~ The Beautiful Books by Christina Lauren ~ #JNGReads

I have finally done it! I have finally finished the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren – check that off the Romance Reading Bucket List!

My first experience with the Beautiful series was when I noticed my mom reading Beautiful Bastard sometime when I was in late high school or early university. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in more “hardcore” romance, so I didn’t pick it up myself. It wasn’t until last year, when I picked up the final book in the series, simply titled Beautiful, and absolutely LOVED it, that the series was brought back to my attention. At that point, I had so many other books on my TBR and I was trying my hardest not to buy any more books, so I read Beautiful and then made a vow to pick up the rest of the books in the series at a later date. Fast forward to this year, when I discovered that my local library had an app available where I could request ebooks to read on my phone, and I started putting all the books in Christina Lauren’s most famous series on hold in rapid succession. Now, months later, after many sweltering summer days spent with these swoon-worthy characters, I am finished with the series!

I’ve posted reviews of some of the books in the series in other posts, so I will link them below. Once I got to Beautiful Player, though, I decided to start saving up my Goodreads reviews to include in one larger post, so you will find those reviews below as well.

1) Beautiful Bastard – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

1.5) Beautiful Bitch – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2) Beautiful Stranger – ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

2.5) Beautiful Bombshell

This short companion to the second novel in the Beautiful series (which I accidentally read after Beautiful Player…oopsie!) was plainly a lot of FUN! It was short and sweet, offering a concise story about one day Bennett, Max, Chloe and Sara spend in Las Vegas, and it was the most entertaining little taste of the life of these friends (as well as Beautiful Player’s hero, Will) outside the larger storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in one sitting…highly recommend it to those engrossed in the Beautiful series! 

❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3) Beautiful Player

You’re so fucking beautiful, I didn’t say.

I love you so much, I didn’t say.”

Ah yes, another wonderful Christina Lauren escapade to keep me company over the last two sunny, summer days.

Let’s be real, I’m not ever going to have anything negative to say about any of the books in the Beautiful series. Are they masterful works of literary art? No, okay they’re not. But are they damn enjoyable and intoxicating? Heck yes. If you’re a fan of the romance genre, this is a series that absolutely cannot be missed, and I am pleased to say that Beautiful Player delivered yet another steamy, sweet and adorable story that I couldn’t put down. I adored Will – I am a sucker for tattoos, so I figured he and I were going to get along from the start – and I found Hanna to be really cute and genuinely easy to like. Of course, there are your typical cliché obstacles in this story, as in any romance, but there was nothing annoying about that because it’s exactly the delicious distraction I wanted. 

What I love most about the books in the Beautiful series, though, is how they all weave together. I love the fact that the main characters in each of the novels are best friends, and I particularly appreciated how much time Bennett, Chloe, Max and Sara received in Beautiful Player. I think this novel in particular highlighted the friendship between the main characters and really started to grow this cast of characters further. I especially loved that George got a brief cameo as well, and the whole experience of reading about Will, Bennett and Max’s weekly lunches and Chloe and Sara shopping with Hanna made me feel like I was a part of their friend group too. The little details about Bennett and Chloe’s wedding were also super exciting to read about, and because I read the final novel in the series, simply titled Beautiful, quite awhile ago, it was nice to be able to remember where each of the characters end up in that one and feel a smile coming to my face as I envisioned how much more wonderful their lives would get.

Needless to say, this is already one of my favourite romance series, and I already have Beautiful Bombshell in my hands ready to be cracked open. There’s no doubt I’ll be speeding through it because I just can’t resist hanging out with these new fictional friends of mine again.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

3.5) Beautiful Beginning

“‘We’re married,’ he said quietly, pressing another kiss to my belly button. ‘I’m your safe place. I’ve always been your safe place.’”

Honestly, what is there not to love about Beautiful Beginning? As a companion to Beautiful Bastard and a Happily Ever After to Bennett and Chloe’s love story, it is pretty well perfect! There is angst and anticipation and it is certainly incredibly steamy. But it is also sweet and adorable and there are moments that truly warmed my heart and reminded me of the days leading up to my own wedding to my husband. More than all that, it is actually a hilarious novella, and it focuses much more on Bennett’s character than any of the previous novels in the Beautiful series have, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading this (the thought of Bennett, Max and Will chasing dresses down a highway was almost too much to handle!), and I had a permanent grin on my face from page one. 

This is a necessary read for lovers of the Beautiful series, particularly those who will always have a soft spot for the OG couple, Bennett and Chloe. I finished the entire thing in one day, and believe me, it was a day wonderfully and pleasurably spent!

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

3.6) Beautiful Beloved

This instalment in the Beautiful series was a bit tricky for me to read, I have to admit. This is entirely down to the fact that I am currently about 7 months pregnant, and so getting a glimpse into Max and Sara’s lives after the birth of their daughter, Annabel, hit very close to home. I’ll be honest that I have struggled recently with reading the books in this romance series because they are EXTREMELY steamy…and being relatively the size of a whale right now and having my mind constantly consumed by thoughts of my baby (who is also constantly moving inside me), I haven’t felt particularly sexy myself in the last few months or even been thinking of that sort of thing. In that sense, Beautiful Beloved was probably the easiest story for me to connect to right now, as far as romances go, but at the same time, seeing Max and Sara struggle to rekindle their intimacy with their newborn a few rooms away was a tad jarring and nerve-wracking to me. Nevertheless, this was an essential story to read in this series, and I particularly liked being introduced to Max’s brother, Niall, who I know will play an important role in his own story soon. The bottom line is that Max and Sara are eventually able to find a balance between their love for each other and their love for their child, and that was really nice to see and certainly gave me hope for my husband and me. It was also really adorable and lovely to see two of my favourite characters from this series acting particularly domestic, and again, this is definitely a necessary read if you are a fan of the Beautiful series in general.

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

4) Beautiful Secret 

I really enjoyed this instalment in the Beautiful series! It felt very unique and different from the other novels in the collection, particularly because in this case, the hero Niall is the one who is inexperienced and uncertain. I found myself relating very much to Niall’s tendency to over-think things to the point of obsession, and Ruby was a charming heroine in her own right. I enjoyed watching her break down Niall’s walls, and their journey from lust to love was entertaining to witness. I found Niall’s hesitancy to enter into a relationship to be quite realistic, and while the story wasn’t very intricate, I found it to be a pleasurable summer read! And of course, any chance to encounter Max and Will again, even briefly, is always welcomed! 

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

4.5) Beautiful Boss

I think Will and Hanna might be my favourite couple from the Beautiful series. (Shh, don’t tell Chloe and Bennett!) As someone who was particularly into academics and considered getting my PhD in Literature for a very long time, I related to Hanna the most out of any of the heroines in the series. I think the main reason I like this couple the best, though, is Will Sumner, who is just delicious in every imaginable way. I’m a sucker for tattoos (I convinced my husband to get his first one just months before our wedding and now he has a full sleeve, which upped his hotness to exponential levels, in my humble opinion), and the fact that Will is both nerdy and sexy as heck has made him a standout character in the Beautiful series from the beginning. So, all that to say that I was really excited to return to a story about Hanna and Will, particularly one that starts off with their wedding. I also appreciated the exploration of Hanna’s struggle to balance her career and her relationship, and although the story was very short and concise, I thought it was a really well done investigation of how straining work can be on a couple from time to time. Once again, Christina Lauren have written an entertaining and enjoyable read, and I would say that Beautiful Boss is another must for all fans of the series to delve into!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5) 

5) Beautiful – ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) 

That’s all for now, folks! I am quite sad to be finished with this series because I grew so fond of so many of the characters, but I am also very happy that I have it under my belt now because I truly feel it is a cornerstone of the romance genre. 

Have any of you read this series? If so, which of the books was your favourite one? Or (more scandalous question) which of the couples was your favourite?

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind” ~ The Story of Rhysand & Amarantha? ~ SS Sponsored Post

This post is sponsored by my husband, SS, who is now apparently an expert on the A Court of Thorns and Roses series and world.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my husband randomly decided to pick up the ACOTAR series a few weeks ago. You can read all about my reaction to this rather extraordinary occurrence here. What’s most adorable about the whole thing is that he has now started to think about the characters, particularly Rhysand, even when he’s not reading (I’m sure all of us fans can relate!), and really not a day goes by that he doesn’t bring up Rhys somehow and compare one of his own daily experiences to something Rhys has said or done.

The other day, SS came home from work and told me I had to listen to the song “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen. Granted, I have heard it before (I actually saw Leonard Cohen in concert years ago and was familiar with the fact that the song was used as the theme for the second season of the TV show True Detective), but SS wanted me to take a closer listen to the lyrics and think about how they described Rhys’ experiences when he lived Under the Mountain with Amarantha. I have to be honest, at first I really thought it was a stretch…but then I actually started listening and could really see where SS was coming from. The song is beautiful, more of a poem melodically spoken to instrumental music as is typical of Cohen’s style, and I really did get a sense of enclosure and claustrophobia from it, this feeling of needing to escape something or someone. Then, as I honed in on the lyrics, I did start to think about Rhys being trapped Under the Mountain and having to conceal his true feelings and identity, as well as forget (as much as he could) his friends and his home. I’ve included a few excerpts of the lyrics below, that SS hand-selected, and I do actually think they relate quite strongly to what Rhys describes as his experiences and struggles when he speaks to Feyre candidly in A Court of Mist and Fury. 

The war was lost

The treaty signed

I was not caught

I crossed the line

I was not caught

Though many tried

I live among you

Well disguised

I had to leave

My life behind

I dug some graves

You’ll never find

The story’s told

With facts and lies

I had a name

But never mind

Your victory

Was so complete

That some among you

Thought to keep

A record of

Our little lives

The clothes we wore

Our spoons our knives

The games of luck

Our soldiers played

The stones we cut

The songs we made

Never mind

Never mind

I live the life

I left behind

There’s truth that lives

And truth that dies

I don’t know which

So never mind

I could not kill

The way you kill

I could not hate

I tried I failed

This was your heart

This swarm of flies

This was once your mouth

This bowl of lies

You serve them well

I’m not surprised

You’re of their kin

You’re of their kind

Never mind

Never mind

I had to leave

My life behind

The story’s told

With facts and lies

You own the world

So never mind

I live the life

I left behind

I live it full

I live it wide

Through layers of time

You can’t divide

My woman’s here

My children too

Their graves are safe

From ghosts like you

If you’d like to listen to the song yourself, we recommend the lyric video linked here: “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen.

What do you think? Has SS officially lost his mind and succumbed to his obsession with Sarah J. Maas’ series? Let us know in the comments below!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

✳✳✳ How It Feels When Your Husband Reads Your Favourite Series ✳✳✳

Last weekend, I woke up gently to the sound of pages turning beside me in bed. I kept my eyes closed for a few glorious seconds, reveling in the smell of well-worn and well-loved paper, and imagined what beautiful novel the pages might belong to. Then, it hit me: if I had my eyes closed, how could I also be reading? I couldn’t, and so that must mean that someone else was reading beside me.

Knowing that my husband isn’t much of a reader of books (graphic novels of the likes of Neil Gaiman and podcasts and Ted Talks are more his style), I immediately jolted upright, wondering who had intruded into my bedroom. It was then that I saw that very same husband of mine sitting up in bed with headphones in his ears and a book on his lap. After scrutiny of what I could see of the cover, I realized that he was reading the novel A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. My heart nearly exploded in that moment.

That’s right – my dear husband and father of my soon-to-be-born child had decided to start reading the ACOTAR series that morning. Not being much of a reader as I said (in his defense, English is his second language so he’s always been a bit of a slow reader and has found that frustrating throughout his life), he decided the best approach was to read my copy of the novels while simultaneously listening to the audiobooks to keep him on pace. He explained all of this to me after I managed to lift my jaw from the floor and ask him what he was doing with my book. He said that he had been wanting to get into reading fantasy for a really long time, and thought this would be a good series to start with because he knew how much I loved it and wanted to discuss it with me. My heart grew about ten sizes and I’m pretty sure I was the living, breathing version of the heart-eye emoji as I gazed down at him. 😍😍😍

Now, here we are a week later and he is just about to finish A Court of Mist and Fury. Imagine how fun (and funny) it has been for me to sit beside him, reading my own book, and hear his reactions to a series that is extremely special and dear to me. His running commentary first started towards the middle of ACOTAR when he started to feel “suspicious” of Tamlin and like he was a bit too much of a “cocky bro”. He then met Rhysand and decided that he was far more interested in him than Tamlin. He did remember me gushing over Rhys and so I think he had an inkling that there was going to be a big romantic shift at some point, but I found it hilarious when he started comparing himself to Rhys and talking about how he too likes to convey an unruffled and overly confident persona when faced with tough situations (ie- just like when Rhys is Under the Mountain and mouths off occasionally to Amarantha, seemingly without a care in the world). I do believe that there are many similarities between my hubby and the epic High Lord of the Night Court, but I can admit that I’m probably a bit biased…but, of course, I fed into his comparisons willingly and enthusiastically.

As he got into ACOMAF and did decide that Tamlin was a total knob, my husband started to compare the way Rhys rules Velaris and manages his Inner Circle to the way he manages at his workplace. He actually called me from work a few days ago to tell me about a meeting he had with his team, and he literally said the sentence, “Yeah, the way I approached the issue was basically how Rhys would have a discussion with Cassian and Azriel…” And I just said nothing for a couple seconds and then was like, “Oh, of course it was, baby!”

Now that he’s almost finished ACOMAF, he’s 100% invested in Rhys and Feyre as a couple and as rulers, and he is itching to get to some battle scenes (Just you wait, man, just you wait!). He’s also begun planning his ACOMAF-inspired tattoo (Could I love this man any more? I didn’t think so, but apparently I can!), to commemorate his reading experience. One particularly funny thing is that he has been quite critical, of all things, of the steamier scenes in the book, claiming that if Rhys were such a “god” in that department, he would know to do things a bit differently. I’ll spare you all the NSFW details of his rants, but suffice it to say that my husband feels that this specific talent is where he and Rhys deviate…making me, according to him, quite the luckiest woman in any world, fictional or otherwise.

Anyway, sorry for the long Sunday post, but I just wanted to get down my thoughts and feelings about my husband delving into one of my favourite series of all time…something that I never in a million years thought I would witness. It has been a romantic, entertaining and hilarious experience so far and I can’t wait to see how he fairs with ACOWAR and ACOFAS! And, when he exclaimed to me a few chapters ago that he “totally ships Feyre and Rhys”, all I could think was, “You and me both, babe…but never as much as I ship me and you!”

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

End of July Round-Up ~ #JNGReads

Happy almost-Friday everyone!

A long weekend is coming up here in Toronto, which means lots of time to spend outside, hopefully blazing through a few books I have on loan from the library.

I was originally holding onto the following reviews to post when I had a few more ready because I’ve actually finished another two books in the days since reading these ones. However, those two books are both part of the Beautiful series, and when I saw that I could borrow all but one of the remaining books in the series that I haven’t yet read from my library last night, I decided it would be a better idea to post all of my short reviews of the Beautiful books in one mega-post.

So, for that reason, I’m offering two reviews here of books that I finished at the end of July and enjoyed well enough. If you’re looking for a relatively entertaining chick lit. to take to the beach with you or a fantasy novel to distract you on these hot days, these just might be the ticket!

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

I don’t quite know how to feel about Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke. I was originally very intrigued by the novel when I came across it at my local bookstore, and I instantly requested an e-book version of it from my library. The synopsis seemed perfectly sweet and romantic, the ideal summer read, and I felt that I would surely enjoy it because of its allusions to Shakespeare and one of my favourite concepts, Fate. I also am a fan of reading my horoscope, although I don’t do so religiously, and I thought the plot of someone altering horoscopes to send a particular message sounded fun and unique.

However, the novel turned out not to be what I was expecting whatsoever. For one thing, it was written in a much more lofty style than is customary for romance novels of this variety, and while I think that can sometimes be a very good thing and there is no reason why a novel has to bend to the clichés of a specific genre, Darke’s writing was a bit too flowery for my liking (this coming from someone who is notoriously verbose) and the whole book read, in many ways, like a horoscope entry with its mystical language. I also found myself thinking, only about 200 pages into the novel, that it was altogether too long. It lacked a bit of direction in my opinion because, rather than focusing exclusively on the main characters Nick and Justine and building chemistry between them, it flitted around to different minor characters and examined how they were affected by the horoscopes Justine constructed. This, again, was a good idea in theory, but in execution I found it made the story harder to follow, as it seemed to jump around a bit haphazardly and was then wrapped up too quickly and neatly. I do have to say that I thought it was cute how Darke chose to write some sections from the perspective of a dog named Brown Houdini-Malarky, but then, at the same time, I also found this incredibly strange and a bit out of place. I felt the same way about one section written from Heaven, which again seemed to bring in the concept of religion in a way that was unnecessary and didn’t fully align with the focus on astrology.

More than anything, I found it hard to like Star-Crossed because I really didn’t like Justine or Nick. Nick, I was totally indifferent towards because he’s an utterly bland character who doesn’t really have much of a personality at all and seems not to have any agency over his life or any decision-making power. Justine was, however, extremely annoying to me because she did make many decisions throughout the novel, but she always seemed to be making the stupidest ones imaginable. And I don’t just mean altering the horoscopes of the magazine she works for, which is obviously unethical; I mean all of the other decisions she makes, even after she is caught and given another chance not to do anything unprofessional again. She is also a bit full of herself, if you ask me, because she goes around correcting signs and menus that have spelling errors, and she comes across as very pretentious. I just found it really difficult to relate to her and I almost didn’t want her to come out on top at the end of the novel because I didn’t feel she deserved it. She sort of bothered me as a character and is not someone I would ever root for romantically, which is a major problem in this sort of novel, if you ask me.

Overall, I wanted more from Star-Crossed and I found myself slogging through it toward the end, just wanting to be done. It wasn’t terrible, but it isn’t the first book I would recommend if a friend asked me for an entertaining read to take with her to the beach, as there are many other books of this genre that I feel are executed much better.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I really enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and will absolutely be reading the next installments in this fantasy series!

This is a fast-paced, engaging and thoroughly entertaining read, that doesn’t feel heavy in any parts. When I had the chance to pick it up, I felt like I raced through the pages rapidly, and the alternating perspective (from Laia’s narrative to Elias’) was very easy and exciting to read. There weren’t any real lulls in the story, and I turned the pages a lot faster than I have when reading other novels in the last little while. That being said, when I was away from the book, I found myself thinking about what had happened in the plot and realizing that not very much had actually occurred. It was almost as if, every time I sat down to read, I got no further into the plot even if I was pages and pages ahead of the last time I read. This could be down to the fact that the plot is quite contained, focusing mainly on the Four Trials to determine the new Emperor and Laia’s spy work and pursuit to set her brother free from prison. Although the text is over 400 pages long, the focus is not very vast, and so it feels like not a lot of progress or movement forward is being made. However, as I said, my reading experience was very enjoyable and I got swept up in the story really easily, so I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that there wasn’t much momentum. What it made me think, ultimately, is that this is a very good first book in a larger series, but wouldn’t work as a standalone because it is mostly concerned with setting the stage for events and intrigues to come.

Overall, I was impressed by An Ember in the Ashes and, like I said, I got through it quickly when I was able to find the time to sit down with it. I was fascinated by pretty much all of the characters, from Izzi to Cook to Helene to the Commandant, and I am very interested to see how the rest of the story unfolds over the course of the additional novels.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Real Pregnancy Talk: Party of Two

Let’s talk about how it really feels to go from being two to being three.

About a month ago, I learned that my favourite musical (and one of my favourite French stories) of all time, The Phantom of the Opera, will be returning to Toronto in January. I immediately called my husband to tell him that we were getting tickets to celebrate our 6-year dating anniversary, which falls in that month. He was completely on board, even though I’ve seen the play about a million times and he’s getting up there as well, and so we took a look at the available seats and made our selection.

It was then that it dawned on us…January 2020…we would need a babysitter to take care of our baby boy if we wanted to go out for a date night at that time. What a surreal and indescribable feeling, to come to the realization that, beginning this Fall, we can no longer think of just the two of us anymore. We will, for the rest of our lives, always have to be thinking for three.

My husband and I aren’t big partygoers and it’s not like we frequent bars and nightclubs in the city all that often, unless there’s a birthday party or event we’re attending. Having said that, we definitely enjoy being out of the house together, exploring new restaurants downtown and especially going to movies and shows. We’re big fans of walking along the Harbourfront, or buzzing around the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale, and we do get restless if we’re sitting at home for too long on a weekend. We enjoy each other’s company, and I’ve often said that some of my happiest moments with my husband have been waiting in line with him for a ride at The Ex, or sitting on an otherwise tedious streetcar journey headed to an outdoor concert at Budweiser Stage. We try to attend Fan Expo and the One of A Kind Christmas Craft Show every year, and make frequent visits to the Distillery District in the cool winter months. We love being out and about, as long as we’re together, holding hands and exchanging smiles.

One of my biggest fears when we found out I was pregnant was that all of this would change. My husband is my absolute best friend in the world, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately, as the countdown is now on to our baby boy’s arrival, about how being parents will change our relationship. We discussed many times before our wedding that if we were deciding to get married, it meant it would be for life, no matter how hard things might get in the future. We’re hopeless romantics in that way, and we realized very early in our relationship that we’d rather be unhappy together than unhappy apart. Hopefully we’re never at that point where we need to struggle through mutual unhappiness, but considering that my pregnancy journey hasn’t been easy and we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs throughout the years, I do feel confident that as long as we maintain our close friendship, we can get through anything. At the same time, though, I don’t want to have to compromise our youth and excitement for life because we have a baby and will soon be in the role of parents. I want us to continue to be exactly who we are to each other, just with the heightened joy of raising our child together.

I’ll admit, the idea of going from being two to being three has made me melancholy for the last few weeks, especially as the summer heats up and we are pulled in so many directions by so many people, attending so many events every single weekend. My emotions have bogged me down for the last few weeks, and I found myself just wanting a bit of peace and quiet with only my husband and I, and when I expressed these feelings to him, my husband completely understood. So, we’ve decided to try to take a step back now that I’m nearing the end of my pregnancy, and take more time for ourselves. I suggested that we make a list of some of the spots in the city we want to visit and things we want to do before our baby arrives, and we decided that we are going to be honest with ourselves and start saying No to invitations if we’re just feeling stretched too thin. We’re about to experience the biggest change of our lives, one that is utterly permanent, and I feel it’s so important to remember that we are the ones who will be mostly affected by this change…meaning that we have to go as easy on ourselves as possible during this transitional phase.

I also am making a commitment to myself now not to be scared to do things with our baby. As a high strung person to begin with, I can totally see myself wanting to stay home with baby all the time, and maybe being a bit afraid to take him out because of the inconvenience or hassle. But, that is NOT the type of mother I want to be. Yes, of course, I know I’ll need to take it easy, but I also want to take our baby out places and be active with him, especially when I’m on my own during my maternity leave. I want to walk with him to visit my husband or my brother at work and still have lunch dates with my girlfriends. I want to do swimming lessons with him and not be intimidated or embarrassed if he sometimes cries in public. I want him to be a third invitee to all the amazing date nights my husband and I can still have, and when he’s old enough, I want to bring him to my favourite musical so that he can experience the wonder and intrigue I did when I first saw The Phantom of the Opera when I was a young girl.

Rather than looking at becoming parents as a loss, I’m choosing to look at it as gaining another best friend, a little nugget who will be so in awe of the world that my husband and I will get to re-experience all of our favourite places and re-live all of our favourite memories through his little eyes. That is an adventure that I think the three of us will never forget!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

A Snorer & A Scorcher ~ Two Reviews of Recent Reads

☼ Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald ☼

This novel really lost momentum for me around the 300-page mark. Prior to that, I was intrigued and interested enough by it, but at that point, my patience started to wane.

I initially would’ve compared this novel to ones like A Prayer for Owen Meany and Middlesex, which have always been among my favourites, but as I kept reading, I realized the main reason why I couldn’t enjoy Fall On Your Knees quite as much was because I didn’t like or feel connected to any of the characters. I don’t mean to say that you always have to like a character to like the book they are a part of, but in this particular case, I strongly dislikedall of the characters and so I found my desire to read about them faded pretty quickly. Whereas in classics like Owen Meany and Middlesex, I felt an immediate connection to Owen, Johnny Wheelwright and Cal Stephanides, in Fall On Your Knees I actually found myself hating almost everyone. James was despicable to me in so many ways, Kathleen was stuck-up and annoying, and Frances and Mercedes had almost no redeeming qualities. The one thing I did appreciate was Materia’s Lebanese heritage because, being half Lebanese myself, it was nice to be able to recognize the different foods she was cooking and some Arabic words here and there. But that wasn’t enough to make me interested in this family and I felt no sympathy for them whatsoever, even though I’m sure I was meant to feel some.

I also feel very similarly about this novel as I did after finishing Love In The Time of Cholera in that I think I would’ve appreciated it much more if I had read it when I was in university. There were undeniably a lot of profound themes and ideas at play in Fall On Your Knees, but I simply wasn’t in the mood to investigate and analyze all of them, and instead would’ve preferred a more classically entertaining plot. This has everything to do with the place I’m at right now in terms of my reading preferences, so I do feel that maybe if I had read this novel a few years ago, at the height of my studies, I might’ve been a lot more impressed by what it had to offer.

I wouldn’t say this was a terrible book by any means because it was very well written, but I grew more and more irritated with it as it went on, and today I woke up just wanting to be done with it. I think the best, most magical books will make a reader never want to stop reading them, and that unfortunately wasn’t something I experienced in this case, as disappointed as that makes me.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

☼ Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren ☼

Ah, Christina Lauren at it again, delivering another absolute scorcher! Entertaining, sexy and fun, Beautiful Stranger is the quintessential beach read and perfect for these fiery summer days!

I have to say, I’ve become rather obsessed with the Beautiful Bastard series this year, and I can’t say I’m mad about it. The series has been on my radar for some time, and I especially felt the urge to delve into it last year when I fell in love with the final novel in the collection, simply titled Beautiful. But, for some reason, it took me awhile to actually get to Beautiful Bastard and kick off a proper read of the series – I am sooo glad I did though because it has to be one of the most enjoyable romance series I’ve ever encountered and I am a big fan of Christina Lauren’s style of romance writing.

Beautiful Stranger did not disappoint as the second official book in the series (not including the novella Beautiful Bitch that falls chronologically before it and is also a lot of fun), and I was already a fan of Sara from her appearances in Beautiful Bastard. I’m all for the strong, powerful, driven heroines that Christina Lauren always seems to create, and Sara is no exception to this rule as the head of Finance at Ryan Media Group. She has a good head on her shoulders (even if I was frustrated with some of her philosophies – more on this below) and I could really relate to her as a character. I also quickly became obsessed with Max Stella, the swoon-worthy Brit who acts as this novel’s male lead. Although a bit of a player in the past, Max comes across as charming and endearing and kind from the very start of the novel…I never had any doubts about him or worries for Sara, and I just felt like he was trustworthy and warm and gooey on the inside from the first moment he was introduced. He seems like an all-around genuine character, which is really refreshing for the romance genre, and I was shipping him and Sara without hesitation from the moment they locked eyes on each other.

This leads me to my one main source of frustration with this novel: the main romantic obstacle. The plot of Beautiful Stranger centres around the fact that Sara has recently moved to New York after breaking up with a politician in Chicago who was cheating on her for the entirety of their 6-year relationship (this is something that is alluded to in Beautiful Bastard). Sara is, quite understandably, torn up after this experience and she finds it really hard to trust Max, choosing instead to ask him for a more casual relationship that involves a steamy encounter once a week and nothing more. While I can appreciate Sara’s reluctance to let someone into her heart, I also found myself rolling my eyes slightly at this. I myself am not a big believer in “the rebound”. I first met my husband only 3 or 4 weeks after he had broken up with his ex-girlfriend, and so many people asked me if I was worried about being a rebound. My husband had actually sworn off dating for awhile after ending things with his ex, but for whatever reason, after seeing and chatting with me, he decided to throw that resolution out the window and ask me for my phone number. So, I probably had ample reason to be wary and suspicious, but I just wasn’t. Instead, I decided to go with the flow, see where things took us, and not deny this immediate spark that was set off between us. Now, 5 and a half years later, we are very happily married and expecting our first child, so I cannot be more grateful that my husband decided to enter into a relationship so soon after his last one, and that I myself gave him that chance. I’m not saying that someone in Sara’s position should just rush out to start seriously dating a guy after what she’s endured, but I did find it odd that Sara was so reluctant to even have dinner with Max or communicate with him throughout the week. It all seemed a bit over-the-top to me, but of course, there always has to be some kind of obstacle in these sorts of romance novels, and it didn’t take Sara and Max too long to admit to their true feelings, so I wasn’t overly put off. I was more eager for them to just get over their hang-ups already, because I knew they eventually would anyway.

All in all, Beautiful Stranger was a very pleasurable read and I am so looking forward to continuing with this series as soon as I can get my hands on the next couple books!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Once Upon A River ~ A New Victorian-esque Favourite ~ #JNGReads

Once Upon a River is an absolutely fabulous read, and Diane Setterfield is an author that every fan of Victorian literature must get acquainted with.

I’ve enjoyed Setterfield’s writing since I first encountered her novel The Thirteenth Tale and was immediately sucked in by her Dickensian style. I would have to say, right off the bat, that Once Upon A River is closer in feel to Setterfield’s second novel, Bellman & Black, which I adored but which I know some readers found too slow and not plot-driven enough. Having said that, I think the beauty of Setterfield’s novels are that they are usually a slow build and greater emphasis is placed on creating an atmosphere and a feeling of warmth and curiosity in the reader than delivering a cheap, quick thrill. If you’re looking for a suspenseful, edge of your seat drama, then Setterfield’s catalogue might not be for you…but if you’re looking for a subtle page-turner full of magic and intrigue, then it certainly is!

I was a bit nervous going into Once Upon A River because I’ve found myself getting distracted from reading very easily in the last few months and I just wasn’t sure if something this meandering would be able to hold my attention. But (and full credit to Setterfield’s ability to weave a tale here), I was drawn in from the very first chapter and actually found myself reading with a flashlight in bed at 2:00am one night, much to my husband’s dismay. Again, this isn’t a traditional page-turner in the sense that a mystery or crime fiction novel would be, but Setterfield evokes this sense of wonder and astonishment in the reader that makes it impossible not to want to go along for the ride down the river Thames with her. There are a lot of magical and fantastical elements to this tale as well which made it feel very reminiscent of a fairytale, but at the same time, nothing about the plot was overly far-fetched or unbelievable, and I found myself buying into every explanation Setterfield put forth without hesitation. Even her most skeptical characters also come around to believing in some magic by the end of the novel, and it was nice to see that acknowledgement that sometimes aspects of life are beyond reasonable explanation and that is okay.

This novel also felt very similar to one of my absolute favourite novels of all time, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Reading Once Upon A River actually made me want to pick up all nearly 1,000 pages of Our Mutual Friend for the THIRD time, but then I thought maybe I should finally crack open the spine of Bleak Houseinstead. In any case, Once Upon A River uses a style that reminded me of Our Mutual Friend to introduce characters slowly and focus on them in great detail but only at times and in ways that were significant to the overall story. The cast of characters in Once Upon A River, although not quite as large as that in Our Mutual Friend, is vast, and it is very fulfilling to see how each character, even those most minor ones, ends up being important by the conclusion in some of the most unexpected ways. Setterfield is also very accomplished at, like Dickens, dropping small hints about a character’s beliefs or history throughout the novel so that the reader is able to string together some ideas about the role they will eventually play in the greater story. And, even the villainous characters like Robin Armstrong and Vincent Nash become somehow pitiable because they are so complexly articulated. I also appreciated that almost every character ends up with their own “Happily Ever After” because what Victorian trope is more wonderful than that, and I am particularly pleased with how things concluded for Rita and Daunt.

One final theme that I will mention is that of childbearing and child rearing, which is a huge focus in Once Upon A River. Naturally, given the fact that I am currently entering my third trimester and will be having my first baby in a few months, I found it pretty coincidental that so much of the story of Once Upon a River surrounds motherhood and what it means to carry a child, give birth to it and raise it. Obviously standards were very different in the Victorian era, so I’m sure I’ll have an easier time in labour than a lot of the female characters, but to hear them occasionally discussing what it feels like to be pregnant and how wonderful but also frightening that can be really resonated with me. There was also so much love and appreciation for children in the novel, and that was especially nice for me to read about because it got me very excited for the road ahead of me. I think any parents or soon-to-be parents would take a lot from the novel for this reason.

Once Upon A River is a must-read in my opinion, although I would probably recommend starting with Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is a bit more traditionally entertaining and will give you a sense of her writing style before delving into something a bit more leisurely and Dickens-inspired.

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Busy Day of Reading and Watching ~ New Recommendations!

I had a lovely day today, finishing up a novel I started just a few days ago, as well as getting through two TV shows I began earlier in the week. I couldn’t help but jot down my thoughts about them, so have a read if you’re looking for some new TV show recommendations in particular.

Kiss Collector by Wendy Higgins

This song relates perfectly to this YA novel…

Kissing Strangers by DNCE
“Ooh
Can’t quit, take sips
Wanna taste you
Ooh
Make wish, use lips
Kissing strangers (huhhh)
Na na na na na na na na
Till I find someone I love
Na na na na na na na na
Kissing strangers (huhhh)
Na na na na na na na na
Till I find someone I trust
Na na na na na na na na
Kissing strangers (huhhh)”

Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzZWXrlDj-A

Also, it’s an extremely catchy and fun song, so I recommend giving it a listen if you’re unfamiliar with it and are planning to read this book.

Kiss Collector by Wendy Higgins was a cute book, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion. I liked Zae well enough as a narrator (even if I did not understand her name in the slightest!), and her relationship with her three best friends was pretty endearing, but I think the novel took wayyy too long to get going and a lot of the light-heartedness was muddled by serious family drama that seemed a touch out of place at times. While this could’ve been the perfect beach/summer read, the fact that Higgins attempted to tackle big topics like infidelity and divorce while still simultaneously offering easy fun made it kind of hard to get a grip on the story. I also felt that Zae’s perspective that she and her friends should “use” guys for the entirety of Spring Break was quite flawed, and it was then hard for me to wrap my mind around Zae’s decisions about college and studying abroad only pages later. I think the novel was trying to do a bit too much in too short a time, and considering that the kiss collecting competition didn’t even get going until about a third into it and is then kind of abruptly dropped toward the end and not really concluded or addressed again, I didn’t feel like there was enough time to explore any one plot direction thoroughly enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained by this novel, but again, it somehow lacked something for me that I just can’t put my finger on. I would recommend this as a quick read if you’re spending the day by the water with friends or taking a plane or train journey somewhere, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect too much from it.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

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Doctor Thorne

God bless a wholesome Victorian story where all ends in happiness!

I decided to sit down and watch Doctor Thorne over the last few days after having it recommended to me by a friend a few years ago. Let’s be honest, the premise is exactly everything I always love and I was itching to get into a Victorian story again. This adaptation of one of Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels was written by Julian Fellowes, who is apparently the writer of Downton Abbey which I have never watched but have been told by 2.5 million people that I NEED to see because I would ADORE it. I don’t know that the writing of Doctor Thorne was exceptional because I have to assume that most of it came straight out of Trollope’s novel, but I’m a fan of Victorian dialogue in general and there were more than a few “Hell yeah!” moments (mostly when Doctor Thorne himself was fighting with someone) so I have to assume that Downton Abbey is also full of great dialogue.

All in all, I would say that Doctor Thorne was a bit more boring than I would have liked, and it’s not at all on the same level as miniseries adaptations like Jane Eyre and North and South. However, it was still quite entertaining with characters I found to be more interesting and engaging than expected (I’m particularly thinking of the older ladies who are extremely and delightfully catty!) and I would describe it as a pleasure to watch. It also did make me violently emotional at times, specifically when I wanted to slap Lady Arabella and Lady de Courcy in the face for how they were treating Mary Thorne and Frank, and when I found myself vehemently wishing that someone would just kill Sir Louis already because he was the biggest douchebag I have ever encountered in a Victorian story! I even had some laugh-out-loud moments, as when Doctor Thorne stands up to the aristocrats around him and isn’t afraid to deliver some blunt and hard truths, even to people he should, from a societal perspective, be careful around. (Sidenote: Tom Hollander was excellent in this, and although it is still hard for me not to envision him as Mr. Collins after his exceptional portrayal of that character in Pride & Prejudice, I was definitely endeared to him here.) Stefanie Martini was a perfect female lead as Mary Thorne and she actually reminded me in a lot of ways of Ruth Wilson in Jane Eyre, who I’m sure we can all agree is an absolute QUEEN! I think Martini should be in a ton more period dramas, if she hasn’t been already.

To sum all this up, if you like period dramas, Doctor Thorne is certainly worth a watch – I suggest making yourself a hot cuppa and getting to it on a rainy day in!

***********

Fleabag

Okay, Doctor Thorne was always going to be overshadowed by this FREAKING BRILLIANT (!!!) show. I loved absolutely EVERYTHING about Fleabag, starting from episode one, and although I don’t know very much about Phoebe Waller-Bridge, I am convinced that my destiny is for her to adopt me and teach me the art of being truly witty, sarcastic, and badass! She is an utter powerhouse and I bow down to her! #queenstatus

Fleabag is probably one of the best shows I’ve watched recently. The truth is, I don’t watch much television generally because if a show doesn’t engage me within one or two episodes, I will throw in the towel without hesitation. So, if I’m watching a show and flying through it in its entirety in less than a week, you know it has to be good. Well, suffice it to say that Fleabag is hilarious, VERY entertaining, poignant, profound, heart wrenching, over-the-top, endearing, and easily one of the best shows of our time. The topics it tackles, from infidelity to cancer to suicide (to name only a few), are all completely on point and thoroughly contemporary, and every plotline is cleverly written, in an engaging and entertaining style.

The acting on this show is also FREAKING INCREDIBLE!!! Seriously, this show has some next level performances, not only from Waller-Bridge herself whose interaction with the audience is both moving and comical, but also from standouts like Olivia Colman who gives an utter knockout performance. Olivia Colman may well be one of the most talented actresses because she has such range (Don’t get me ranting on how epic she is in Broadchurch!), and I haven’t seen The Favourite but I’m convinced she deserved that Oscar because the woman can do no wrong and I never realized what incredible comedic timing she has. Season 1 of Fleabag is good, but season 2 is absolutely phenomenal, and Andrew Scott is a perfect addition as Hot Priest. His chemistry with Fleabag literally gave me chills because he comes across as oh so charming – literal proof that he is an amazing actor because he was creepy as hell as Moriarty in Sherlock, but there is none of that leftover in this character.

My personal favourite character, though, is Claire. She reminds me a bit of myself in some ways (My husband agrees with this – should I be worried?), but what mainly made her appealing to me as a character is that she is so complex and complicated. Her emotions are articulated with such subtle nuance, and it broke my heart at times and made me burst out laughing at others. Her chemistry with her sister Fleabag is probably the best thing about the show…and that is saying A LOT!

Fleabag is an ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH!!! Honestly, if you haven’t watched it already, what the **** have you been doing?! It’s totally bingeable and will have you rethinking so many things about life, love and family. 1000/10!!!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart