A Great and Terrible Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Ah, when reality fails to live up to expectations…

This novel was annoying. Was it as annoying as some of the 2-star reads I toiled through last year? No, thankfully. But was it random, all over the place and full of totally pointless characters? Yes, ma’am.

I’ve been wanting to read A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray for years now. I think I added it to my Goodreads To-Read List when I first signed up for the site, which was a long time ago. By all accounts, this novel should’ve been a favourite of mine – the setting is Victorian England, the tale is meant to have magical twists and turns, and the heroine is a redhead, which I always associate with feisty, strong and brave characters. This novel really does tick every box that I look for when picking up a young-adult novel.

And yet, it fell utterly flat for me.

I have to admit, my mind wasn’t totally into this novel from the start. This could be because I entered into it hot off the tails of the most recent novel in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Frost and Starlight, which I have been anticipating for almost a year. It could also be because I’ve been exhausted from work this entire week. It is more likely because I’m leaving on my belated honeymoon to Paris and London next week and my mind has been wandering and daydreaming constantly. These could all be reasons why A Great and Terrible Beauty didn’t wow me like I thought it would.

However, if a book is good enough, nothing should get in its way. If a book is captivating and intriguing enough, I can pick it up after a long and busy day and be immediately swept up in it, as if I never put it down. If a plot is compelling enough, I won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough, even if my arms are tired from a grueling workout or my eyes are burning from hours staring at a computer screen. And, if characters are engaging enough, they will become dear friends. None of the characters from A Great and Terrible Beauty intrigued me, and the plot was so jumbled and random that it wasn’t able to redeem the novel for me whatsoever.

Okay, hang on a minute here, I feel like this little review is getting as jumbled as the novel. How to organize my thoughts better? What about a list of the things that made no sense to me and that I am still flummoxed by? Good plan!

1) Carolina – Who is this girl and why is she relevant? I still have no idea. Is she Mother Elena’s daughter? Was I supposed to be shocked by that? I didn’t even care, TBH.

2) Miss Moore – I really thought she’d somehow be involved in all the stuff with The Order and the realms and then she wasn’t and was just some basic character who served no purpose and wasn’t even in the novel enough to be this feminist, independent female character. Major potential that was unexplored if you ask me.

3) Mary Dowd’s Diary – 100% of the diary entries included in the novel seemed pointless to me and served only to muddle the plot and didn’t actually add any suspense or thrill, in my opinion. Could’ve done without the diary honestly.

4) Circe – I have no words for how confusing this character is as a “villain”, mainly because she isn’t even present in the novel and I don’t have any grasp of what exactly she is or is after.

5) Gemma’s Brother – What is this guy’s name again? I can’t even remember…which just proves how pointless his inclusion in the novel was, even though it was brief. Wasted time and space on the page, if you ask me.

6) Mrs. Nightwing – Could’ve been cool. Could’ve been an unexpected villain OR an unexpected aid to the main characters. Was none of these things. Not cool.

7) Brigid – See comments above.

8) The Order/The Realms – WTF was even happening in the realms and what even is The Order? Like was it just comprised of Mary Dowd and Sarah Rees-Whatever? Or has The Order been around for a long time? Did I miss a huge explanation here? Possible.

9) Mr. Bumble – Again, major potential left unexplored BECAUSE this novel could’ve had way more commentary about what it means to be a woman in the Victorian era EXCEPT that it only alludes to these things and then flits off into fairyland and then nothing much happens.

10) Ann – The epitome of unexplored potential. She could’ve been the raddest female character if she only had a bit more backbone and fight to her. And okay, maybe the author wanted to go the route of having her be self-conscious about her lack of beauty, etc. BUT what about exploring this a bit further rather than just referencing the fact that she tries to physically hurt herself and then shying away from this subject matter?

11) Gemma – Not quite as annoying as my two least favourite characters of all time, Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper and Anna from Anna and the French Kiss (I know, you all have your pitchforks at the ready, I can sense it), but Gemma has to be one of the most insipid and idiotic characters I have ever encountered. If someone says, Do NOT take this power with you into the real world…DON’T DO IT. DO NOT. Those instructions were very clear. Gemma just seems like a selfish, spoiled brat right from page 1, and this only gets worse when she teams up with equally annoying and vapid characters like Felicity and Pippa. Mean Girls-esque cliques in a Victorian-inspired novel? NOT. A. FAN.

12) Kartik – Is this person a viable love interest for anyone in this story? Does this person have a point in this novel? No to both.

I was going to give this book a 3-star rating, to be generous, but boy, did that list ever work wonders and clarify things for me. This novel was a bore, but also super confusing and left me with more questions than answers. Not impressed, to say the least.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Neverwhere ~ #JNGReads

Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming my new favourite author.

To be honest, I’ve only read two novels by Gaiman: Stardust and now Neverwhere. My husband, however, is an avid graphic novel reader and he recently finished the entire Sandman collection, as well as several collections that take place within the Sandman Universe (such as Death and Lucifer). Although I haven’t read these stories myself, discussing them with my husband and having him show me bits and pieces of them has convinced me that Gaiman is a genius storyteller. My brother also spoke very fondly of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I think will be my next Gaiman endeavour) and American Gods. Neil Gaiman seems to be all around me lately, and I can’t say I mind!

Neverwhere is one of those books that I will never be able to describe or summarize. There is a lot going on in this relatively small (only just over 400 pages!) text, and much of what occurs is fantastical but still somehow totally realistic and mundane. It’s hard to put into words the vibe and tone of Neverwhere, but trust me when I say that if you love unique characters, thorough world-building, and the city of London in general, you will enjoy this wild ride. I can’t say too much about the plot because I feel like everything would be a spoiler since so much of the novel’s magic is down to the creation of this insane and yet wonderfully recognizable world, and I would urge anyone who has read any Gaiman and enjoyed it, or anyone who is interested in getting a feel for what Gaiman’s work is all about, to pick Neverwhere up. I feel, personally, that it gave me a truer sense of who Gaiman is as a writer than Stardust did because, rather than adhering to genre specific criteria as he did in creating Stardust, a fairytale, Neverwhere seems to be entirely of Gaiman’s own invention.

What I can comment thoroughly on, though, is Neil Gaiman’s mastery of the English language. The man can write, there’s scarcely any doubt about that, and what’s more, he seems to have mastered many different styles and genres of writing. Neverwhere felt exactly, to me, like it could’ve been written by Dickens and that is what I adored about it! Several of the scenes reminded me of something from the pages of my favourite Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend, and the way Gaiman constructs and describes his characters is very reminiscent of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. I am particularly thinking of characters like Mr. Croup, Mr. Vandemar and the Marquis de Carabas, who are gritty and dirty and devious enough to have been created by Mr. Dickens himself. I believe that Gaiman was very much aware of how he was emulating Dickens’ style, but I also was amazed to find that the text felt so totally his own; it wasn’t a parody or an imitation at all, but it was certainly an homage to the great works of Victorian past.

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing alike.”

“They walked down some impressive lobby. Then they waited while the footman lit each of the candles on a candelabra, of the sort normally only seen on paperback book covers, where it is traditionally clutched by a young lady in a flowing nightdress who is fleeing from the kind of manor house that only has one light on anywhere, burning in an attic window.”

Neverwhere is worth picking up for the beauty of its language. But what’s even more impressive is that the plot is exciting and the characters are both hilarious and feisty. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, is a bumbling average guy who happens upon this totally outrageous adventure, and as a reader, it is so enjoyable to watch him navigate his way through circumstances that are outlandish and dangerous.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Neverwhere and I will not hesitate to continue plowing through Neil Gaiman’s catalogue. Highly recommend this one!

❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Fifty Shades

“‘Enlighten me, then.’”

*This “review” will include my thoughts on the Fifty Shades series as a whole, including a discussion of the film adaptations.*

How to put into words the way I feel about the Fifty Shades series? I don’t even know where to begin.

I should start with a short description of my personal experiences with the series…

I first attempted to read Fifty Shades of Grey when I was in my second year of university. I say “attempted” because I got through very little of the book before refusing to read any further. I’ll let you in on a little secret: at that point in my life, I was pretty inexperienced in the ways of love and intimacy. I hadn’t had my first kiss yet (yes, it’s true, that wouldn’t come until the summer AFTER my second year of university), and I didn’t know very much at all about interacting intimately with the opposite sex. I was as innocent and naïve as Miss Anastasia Steele, and my first attempt reading Fifty Shades of Grey was so abysmal because I was filled mostly with fear, uncertainty and anxiety about every aspect of Christian and Ana’s relationship. It just wasn’t the right time for me to encounter such a graphic, shocking novel, and I remember actually being disgusted and close to a panic attack when I read the scene where Christian and Ana have sex (I should probably get used to not using euphemisms when talking about this series, eh?) for the first time. I just couldn’t stomach it, so for the first time in my life, I DNFed a book.

Fast forward to two years later, when I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I was a bit more experienced at this point (although nowhere near where Ana is by the end of the first novel), so I decided to revisit Fifty Shades of Grey from a more, shall we say, mature perspective. I finished it within days and moved onto Fifty Shades Darker very quickly. I never went on to Fifty Shades Freed because, being totally single at that point, I found it hard to relate to Ana as she was preparing to get married. But, I had read the first two novels in the series without incident, and I felt wiser and more knowledgeable because of it. I would learn about a year later that I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought, but in that moment after finishing Fifty Shades Darker, I felt accomplished and like I had been let into one of the world’s greatest secrets. I guess you could say that I was curious about these things that existed in society but that I wasn’t yet a part of. I was, no doubt, craving some sort of intimacy and physical connection myself that I had yet to find, and I devoured the book more out of wanting to learn than anything else.

“That means I’m competing with Darcy, Rochester, and Angel Clare: impossible romantic heroes. Here’s the proof I needed. She’s an incurable romantic, like her mother – this isn’t going to work.” ~ Grey

Were these two books literary masterpieces? Absolutely not. Don’t misunderstand me please…I am a lover of Charlotte Brontë and I knew the difference between a cheesy, cliché erotic romance and the classic romances of times past. I wasn’t comparing Fifty Shades to Jane Eyre or anything of that nature whatsoever, and I scorned E.L. James’ allusions to Victorian novels because my somewhat pretentious English Lit. major self was offended that she would even utter the name Brontë in her text. I’m now much more versed in the contemporary romance genre and I appreciate its merits, but of course, I always knew the difference between it and those literary classics that have been revered for centuries. That being said, what Fifty Shades offered curious JNG that Jane Eyre did not was detail…it provided me with a glimpse into what happened to Jane after she married Rochester, what would happen to me one day, what came after that first kiss I had finally had. My curiosity, my yearning to know more of intimacy in some capacity, was…sated.

Then I met my now husband, and we started a relationship that blew my mind in so many ways. It was my first relationship of any kind, and as you can imagine, many other firsts came with that. Believe me, Fifty Shades was faaar from my mind when presented with a real, live man to call my own, but of course, I did at least know a thing or two about intimacy because of that popular series that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

What complicated things a bit, though, was the release of the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades. I went to see it with a girlfriend in the theatre, and although I had my own boyfriend and wealth of experience by that point, I was still shocked and disturbed and uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out why I could apparently read about all these acts, and do some of them, and then not witness them on screen, but something about the movie really put me off, and I left at the end in utter panic, texting my boyfriend frantically out of confusion and uncertainty. The issue was (and my boyfriend was quick to identify this and help me through it) the representation of a relationship unlike anything I had ever had or seen: a BDSM relationship that I wasn’t ready to see for myself. Now, I’ve come to understand through more encounters with these sorts of novels and through a better understanding of sex in general, that Christian and Ana don’t necessarily do a BDSM relationship properly…but at the time, it was my only frame of reference, and while reading about it was one thing, seeing it played out before me was quite another. Christian’s urge to possess Ana, her willingness to submit to him, her lack of confidence and pride in herself, all made me very uncomfortable. I left the movie, had some confused and emotional discussions with my boyfriend about all I had seen, and then tried to put it behind me.

Two years later, I was even wiser and more knowledgeable, but this time because of my own experiences, because I had grown to understand myself, develop my own confidence and preferences. I was moving closer and closer to the woman I am today, and something told me that I could handle watching Fifty Shades Darker…so off to the movie theatre I went. And, I’ll be 100% honest, I LOVED this movie! Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but for some reason, I really enjoyed it, and I’ve seen it probably a dozen times in total by now. I can’t really explain what I like about it, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this intimacy is established between Christian and Ana that finally isn’t just physical. It reminded me, in some ways, of my own relationship, and I was touched by the idea that only the people in a relationship can fully understand it. I liked the concept that people in a relationship necessarily have secrets, these private feelings and preferences that they hide from the world and keep only to each other. I had experienced that firsthand myself, that “You and I vs. Everyone” mentality, and I thought it was depicted well on screen. Fifty Shades Darker is still the movie I turn on when I’m bored at home on a Friday night, and I’m happy to say that I also watch Fifty Shades of Grey sometimes, without any anxieties or uncertainties.

Anastasia Steele, what am I going to do with you?

So, when I stumbled upon Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey told from Christian’s perspective) in the bookstore a week ago, I felt that it was time for me to try reading the series again, this time as a married woman with more confidence, self-assurance and self-respect than I have ever had in my life. Much of the novel annoyed me, and I still didn’t like the rhetoric of possession and inequality. I was frustrated all over again with Ana’s innocence and her lack of self-esteem, and I hated Christian at many points. But, I felt that I understood the characters and the concepts so much better (even if I do still think they do BDSM very wrong!), and so I was able to enjoy the novel as a source of entertainment. I appreciated that I had issues with it, because I found that I thought about all those old anxieties from the past in a new light, but I also found myself enjoying the novel for its own sake, as a cheesy, light romance. I had grown a lot since my very first reading of the novel, and the experience of reading Grey was more a recognition of my own growth and understanding of myself than anything else.

Maybe it’s totally absurd to have this extreme of a reaction to a series like Fifty Shades, but I’ve never been able to control how I feel, especially when it comes to novels. The idea of Fifty Shades will always make me a little sad and wistful, maybe because of the intimacy it portrays and how overwhelming and all-encompassing I know that can be. But, whatever the reasons for my strange attachment to this series, Fifty Shades had a hand in my own awakening…and for that, well, it will always have some sort of place in my heart.

❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Emerald & Opal ~ 2018’s Great Bookish Adventure!

From the moment I met my best friend Camille during our undergraduate creative writing course, I knew our relationship was going to be something special.

Maybe it’s because of how similar our names are.  Maybe it’s because of how opposite our physical appearances are, despite our styles being nearly identical.  Maybe it’s because she’s a die-hard Jane Austen fan while I’m a passionate Charlotte Brontë follower, and yet we can each appreciate Austen and Brontë for their literary brilliance.  Probably it’s all of these things put together, plus so many more…but whatever the reason that I was drawn to Camille in the first place, she has become this huge influence and driving force in my life ever since I was introduced to her.  She is the Jane to my Elizabeth Bennet, the Helen Burns to my Jane Eyre, the Diana Barry to my Anne Shirley, the Betty Cooper to my Veronica Lodge…we are yin and yang, ice blue and deep green…we are friend soul mates, there’s no doubt about it!

Camille is the friend I immediately turn to in moments of self-doubt and anxiety.  She is also the friend I have always felt most comfortable sharing my creative pursuits with, whether it’s a slightly trashy chick lit. short story I’m working on, or a poem I feel isn’t any good but I just had to get on paper, or posts for this very blog.  She was one of the first and fiercest supporters of me starting The World of my Green Heart (and I think she’s also one of its most avid readers ~ Hey Camille!), and she has always encouraged me to put my green heart on the line, both with her kind words and also by setting an incredible example for me.  Camille is a talented poetry writer, a masterful programmer and an expert white hot chocolate maker.  She’s mother to some adorable kitties (shout out to my god-daughter, the kitty Khaleesi), she’s a loving and devoted girlfriend, and she’s the most intelligent woman I have ever encountered, combining this passion for science and psychology with this determination to read ALL THE BOOKS!  Camille is, quite frankly, the woman I aspire to be.

So, when Camille and I were debating what kind of creative endeavour we should get involved in together at the end of 2017, I knew something magical was brewing!  We talked about joining a book club, attending an improv class…and I’m sure we will do these things.  But, the first thing we could agree on and really wanted to sink our teeth into was a joint Bookstagram account.  With the names we have, the opposite appearances, my preference for emeralds and Camille’s Pinterest obsession with opal stones, the Instagram account Emerald & Opal was born!  Our intention is to develop this Instagram page into a spot where we can share our story and chronicle our friendship, through paperbacks and hardcovers, classics and contemporaries, warm cups of earl grey and steaming lattes.  We intend to use this social media platform as a means to exercise our creative muscles and write a story, a memoir of sorts, a record of our interests and passions and the evolution of our relationship and ourselves.  We’ve already got the account underway, posting photos of our outings and hijinks, and also snaps of our recent reads and the massive piles of books we have to get to.  So far, it’s been a wild and exciting and addictive ride, and we’re constantly chatting back and forth about what to post next!

All this to say that I’m finally embarking on another creative adventure that I think goes so well with everything I’ve tried to and have succeeded in achieving on this very blog.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share the link to our page here, in case any of you are interested in following Camille and me on our Bookstagram journey.  Rest assured, I will be continuing to upload reviews and posts here just as frequently, but if you’d like to see some of the photos I’ve worked on and what my best friend and I are up to on a daily basis, Emerald & Opal is the place to do that!  And trust me, you’re going to love Camille (or Opal, as I’ve now taken to calling her) just as much as I do! ❤

Do you have a Bookstagram account?  If so, please share it in the comments below ~ Camille and I would love to follow along on your journey as well!

 

 

@emeraldandopal_xo

 

https://www.instagram.com/emeraldandopal_xo/

 

xo

Janille N G

(Girl with an EMERALD Green Heart)

(The Green Half of Emerald & Opal)

Her Who Loves You Best

– An excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë –

It is no easy task to choose a single passage from Jane Eyre to play a part in your wedding ceremony, particularly if you are as huge a fan of the story as I am. I spent a long time searching through the novel, trying to find the perfect passage that would encompass all of my thoughts and feelings on marriage and True Love. I of course wanted something substantial, that would speak to Jane’s complex relationship with Mr. Rochester as well, and although there are so many scenes in the novel that I absolutely adore, I feel that there is only one that truly portrays the complexities of marriage, the love and equality and sacrifice. I chose the following quote and it will be read during my wedding ceremony by one of my dearest friends and bridesmaids…in less than one week’s time!

‘“All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence for ever.”

Again, as he kissed me, painful thoughts darkened his aspect.

“My seared vision! My crippled strength!” he murmured regretfully.

I caressed, in order to soothe him. I knew of what he was thinking, and wanted to speak for him, but dared not. As he turned aside his face a minute, I saw a tear slide from under the sealed eyelid, and trickle down the manly cheek. My heart swelled.

“I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard,” he remarked ere long. “And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?”

“You are no ruin, sir—no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not, because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”

Again he smiled: I gave him comfort.

“You speak of friends, Jane?” he asked.

“Yes, of friends,” I answered rather hesitatingly: for I knew I meant more than friends, but could not tell what other word to employ. He helped me.

“Ah! Jane. But I want a wife.”

“Do you, sir?”

“Yes: is it news to you?”

“Of course: you said nothing about it before.”

“Is it unwelcome news?”

“That depends on circumstances, sir—on your choice.”

“Which you shall make for me, Jane. I will abide by your decision.”

“Choose then, sir—her who loves you best.”

“I will at least choose—her I love best. Jane, will you marry me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Truly, Jane?”

“Most truly, sir.”

“Oh! my darling! God bless you and reward you!”

“Mr. Rochester, if ever I did a good deed in my life—if ever I thought a good thought—if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer—if ever I wished a righteous wish,—I am rewarded now. To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth.”

“Because you delight in sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value—to press my lips to what I love—to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then certainly I delight in sacrifice.”

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

The Ambitious, But Not Impossible Reading Plan…

Hello again dear Readers!

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

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

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

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

The Books I Want To Finish Before January:

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Paper Princess ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tough one to review, no question!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart