Crooked Kingdom ~ #JNGReads

“a black glass boy of deadly edges.”

So this is what all the hype was about.

I have to be honest right from the start: when I read the Grisha Trilogy, I was sort of wondering what all the fuss was about.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three novels in the series well enough, but at the end of my reading experience and recently, several months after finishing the series, I found myself thinking that it wasn’t at all what it was hyped up to be.  I liked Leigh Bardugo’s creative world building and interesting characters (shout out to The Darkling and Nikolai/Sturmhond in particular) a lot, but I just couldn’t fully understand why everyone on Goodreads was obsessed with Bardugo’s writing.  I found myself not really getting it.

That is until I read Six of Crows which absolutely blew me away.  Having now finished reading the second novel in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom, I can finally say that I truly understand Bardugo’s genius and I am absolutely eager to pick up anything and everything she has written and will write in the future.  The Six of Crows duology is masterfully written and articulated: the pacing is absolute perfection, blending a suspenseful plot with intense moments of quiet, emotional reflection within each character; the world is vast and immense, and draws on elements of the Grisha trilogy to create a realistic setting and environment that is all encompassing and broad; and the characters…well, they’re impossible to describe and equally impossible to forget.  I wrote last weekend about my appreciation for the female protagonists Nina and Inej who I believe are groundbreaking in their representation, and I was inspired even further by their friendship and teamwork in Crooked Kingdom – they truly reminded me of myself and my dear best friend, CV, boosting each other up and growing each other’s confidence at every turn.  All of the characters are fascinating, though, from Wylan, the quiet and innocent scientist, to Jesper, the rambunctious and daring gambler (and, Wylan and Jesper’s relationship was remarkable and touching as well).  There really is nothing that could’ve been made better or improved in the Six of Crows duology, and it is, to me, an utter masterpiece of literature.  Despite the fact that it is a fantasy series branded as young adult lit., it is edgy, dark, heart wrenching and profoundly mature.  This is the sort of young adult literature that needs to be written more often – we don’t need to pander to or belittle young adults, we need to provide them with stories that are as diverse and thought provoking and complex as they are.  Leigh Bardugo does this artfully.

And, in truth, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feel like very adult novels, particularly in some of the darker themes they investigate.  One of these is the treatment of PTSD and anxiety, which is what touched me most profoundly when reading Crooked Kingdom.  It all comes down to the astonishing characterization of Kaz Brekker, arguably the main character of the duology.  Kaz is a character that I identified with very strongly (never mind the fact that every “Which Six of Crows character are you?” quiz I took yielded the result KAZ).  Kaz suffers from anxiety in a way that is very complicated and easy to leave unrecognized.  He is a strong and confident character, a born leader whose mind is so sharp that he always has a number of plans, and multiple backup plans, in the works.  He is one of the most capable characters I have ever encountered.  But, at the same time, Kaz is deeply flawed and troubled, having survived the traumatic experience of watching his brother die from illness when he was very young.  There are so many layers to his particular story that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that Kaz has difficulty connecting emotionally to anyone else, as well as physically touching other people, because of what he has experienced.  The fact that he wears black leather gloves almost constantly is a physical representation of his anxiety about getting too close to the people around him.

And how remarkable is it to have a character that gets things done, and does them well, but is also constantly at war within himself?  This is absolutely, 100% groundbreaking in my opinion, and Bardugo treats Kaz’s anxiety and PTSD with the utmost care and sensitivity.  But, she also displays his flaws, delves deep into them, and presents him to the reader warts and all.  I felt in so many ways that Kaz was a mirror that reflected myself back to me – no, I don’t have trouble connecting to other people, but I do have my fair share of serious anxieties, and although I am often on top of them and use them to complete my tasks and responsibilities with even more perfection, they are frustrating and exhausting all the same.  Suffering from anxiety is an everyday battle, and even if things are going well and everything is successful, that doesn’t mean that a person isn’t feeling weakened and vulnerable.  Kaz is such a clear representation of that, this person who is seemingly always in control, but who is battling these harsh demons within himself.  I easily sympathized and empathized with Kaz, and I would encourage every single person to read Crooked Kingdom (and of course, Six of Crows first) to get a sense of what a life with anxiety can be like.

What also struck me about Crooked Kingdom was the emphasis on fighting one’s demons, on doing everything possible to be healthy, to conquer one’s anxieties and weaknesses.  This was a powerful message that I felt truly touched by – I loved the emphasis on doing the work to better yourself, on not just sitting around and saying that you are “damaged” and then doing nothing about it.  Yes, there are so many people who go through grave and traumatic things, but I think what is most inspiring is when these people take those experiences and the pain they feel every single day and channel it into being a good person, or into bettering themselves and learning from their experiences.  There is so much growth to be taken from trauma and pain, and although it is so much easier said than done, I appreciate that Bardugo forces her characters to be self-aware, to understand their flaws and complexities and work on achieving their own version of happiness, whatever that may be.  The treatment of both anxiety and the healing process is flawlessly and movingly done.

“‘I would come for you…I would come for you.  And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together knives drawn, pistols blazing.  Because that’s what we do.  We never stop fighting.’” ~ Kaz to Inej

“‘Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined.  If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.’” ~ Inej to Jesper

Bardugo does so much with her characters in both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and she explores so many wonderful facets of their personalities, that it is quite impossible not to love and root for them.  I was touched by the stories of every single one of the characters, and it was just an added bonus that the plots of the novels were so complex and exciting.

I would HIGHLY recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone.  Leigh Bardugo’s talent as a writer is so evident in these two novels, and it is a genius you won’t want to miss out on!

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

Crooked Kingdom ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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Six of Crows – A Mini Review ~ #JNGReads

Well, I’m certainly late to the party with this one, but boy am I glad I finally arrived!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a remarkable, suspenseful, heart wrenching and complex tale. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year, and will go down as one of my all-time favourite novels.

I don’t want this review to be too long or comprehensive because I’m planning to move rapidly into reading the second book in the duology, Crooked Kingdom. I would much rather wait until I have finished that book to write a full review of the entire series, with more thorough thoughts on the main characters. Having said that, there was something that struck me about Six of Crows and I just felt that I had to get my thoughts on it down in writing.

Six of Crows, as I said before, is remarkable – it is unlike any other novel in so many ways, such as its tone, narration and sophisticated, gothic feel. It is most remarkable, however, in its portrayal of the six characters that serve as the protagonists of the story. Wylan, Jesper, Matthias, Nina, Inej and Kaz are among the most unique, creative and well-articulated characters I have ever encountered in literature. Each one of them has such a vast and complicated personality, with a detailed history, and Bardugo’s genius truly emerges in her narrative style and the fact that she allows each of the six characters to have their own focus while maintaining consistent third person narration. It is a style that is really hard to describe, but it is almost as though the narrator, this omniscient being, decides to hone in on each of the six characters in their own turn, portraying their own internal emotions and anxieties while simultaneously pinpointing how these internal sentiments manifest themselves in outer reality and are perceived by the other characters. I can’t do the style justice by trying to describe it, so believe me when I say that Six of Crows would be worth reading just for the unparalleled narrative style.

But Six of Crows is also worth reading for sooo many other reasons, such as the suspenseful plot and the complex relationships between these six intriguing, flawed but strong characters. Kaz is by far a standout character, but what touched me most profoundly, and what I want to talk about more closely right now, is Bardugo’s portrayal of her two female characters, Nina and Inej. I have not come across such inspiring female characters in a very long time, and I have to admit that Nina and Inej have already inspired me in my own life. They have given me that little extra push I needed to be the strongest, most powerful young woman I can be, and I think we should all be grateful as readers that two female characters like this exist in a young adult novel. I, for one, will be having my future daughter (if I have one) read Six of Crows at an early age because of Nina and Inej.

Nina ~ The Confident and Curvy Grisha

Nina was the character that truly surprised me the most in Six of Crows. When she first appears in the novel, she is working in what I guess is a sort of brothel or something of that sort and she comes across as somewhat flaky and far too focused on physical appearances and superficial things. Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that although Nina is beautiful, she has many gifts as a Grisha Heartrender and is also extremely intelligent, fierce and takes no nonsense from anyone. Above all, she is unfailingly loyal, both to her lover Matthias and eventually to the Six of Crows crew, and she makes sacrifices and wise snap decisions that I really didn’t expect from her. She was just a fascinating example of the appearance vs. reality motif.

What stuck with me most about Nina was her inspiring amount of confidence. It’s mentioned several times in the novel that Nina absolutely loves sweets and food in general, and her voluptuous form is also described. This led me to believe that Nina is more of a curvy figure, and that was something that I seriously LOVED! This is a different topic for another time, but I have always struggled with my weight, body confidence and self-esteem, and no matter how many times my fiancé and my friends tell me that I have nothing at all to worry about, I can’t seem to acquire the confidence I would like to have about this particular aspect of myself. To read about Nina acting with such confidence, particularly in her interactions and when making those snap decisions, was truly eye opening for me. Nina’s body isn’t even a thing that she mentions herself or seems to think about, except in its capacity to assist her in her tasks and when she is using it to her advantage. She seems to truly love herself and take pride in exactly who she is, and all I could think while reading is, I want to be Nina when I grow up. I’m not even close to as confident and self-assured as she is yet, but I would really like to be one day.

The passage that touched me the most with regards to this idea was the following one…

“Do you never doubt yourself?” [Matthias asked Nina.]

“All the time,” she’d said as she slid into sleep. “I just don’t show it.”

Nina is the embodiment of the “fake it till you make it” mentality – and boy, does she ever make it in the end! She became one of my favourite fictional characters ever!

Inej ~ The Defiant and Daring Ghost

While Nina was most probably my favourite character in Six of Crows, Inej was the one that intrigued me the most (and that is saying a lot since Kaz Brekker is very intriguing!). In contrast to Nina, Inej is this slender, silent character that is actually given the nickname The Wraith to describe how adept she is at remaining hidden and taking people by surprise. She was raised as an acrobat, and her athleticism and the way she pushes her body to the ultimate extremes (such as climbing up an incinerator shaft, practically barefoot) is freaking insane! It is totally groundbreaking, in my opinion, to see characters like Nina and Inej working together and becoming such close friends without any competitiveness whatsoever, and it warmed my heart to see this wraith-like figure soften and begin to trust another female. I also couldn’t help but root for Inej, not only in her crazy physical feats, but also in terms of wanting her to find love and respect, and to value herself as more than simply a pawn or tool in Kaz’s missions. I think whereas Nina possesses confidence inherently, Inej truly develops and gains confidence as the novel progresses, especially in her interactions with Kaz, and that is an epic transformation to watch unfold. Although Inej never doubts herself when getting a task done or doing something physical, it is heartwarming to watch her start to believe in her own value more and become self-assured.

Inej’s newfound self-worth is most obvious in a line toward the end of the novel that I just couldn’t get out of my head…

“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

Inej finally has the confidence to go after exactly what she wants, and she refuses to settle for anything less. I was more proud of her than I can adequately express here.

And on that note, let me finish by giving a song recommendation. I am sometimes struck by songs that I like that somehow seem to fit exactly with an aspect of a novel I’ve just read, and today when I was running on the treadmill for an hour (What can I said, Inej inspired me?!), the song “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent came on my iPod. I’ve liked this song since high school, but as I listened to the lyrics today, I couldn’t help but think of Kaz and Inej and their complicated relationship. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I am going to include some lyrics that I think express this comparison, as well as a link to the song below. If you’ve read the novel (and if not, I urge you to ASAP!) you’ll know exactly what I mean.

From “Pins and Needles” by Billy Talent

Never understood how she could,

Mean so little to so many

Why does she mean everything to me?

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

******

I never walked so far on a lonely street

With no one there for me

Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame?

For all of my insecurities

How did I ever let you go?

Accept this confession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

You’re not my high possession!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

My conscience is vicious!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

And I’m begging forgiveness!

(…I’m walking on pins and needles)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-GSagBJgY

Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥(out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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

This is destined to be a year of reading disappointments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

My Victorian Condition ~ A Life Talk

I could never be a Victorian.

Isn’t that ironic? How many times have I mentioned here (and in my life in general) that I would love to have lived in the Victorian era? I mean, for god sake, my bio on the side of this very blog’s homepage professes…

~ I would trade this life for a Victorian life in a heartbeat. ~

But, it has come to my attention recently that there is no way I would survive a Victorian life…and it has everything to do with one tiny thing I have been carrying around for my entire life. My anxiety. Now, I know there’s a stigma about mental health issues, which is definitely going away slowly, but is still pretty prevalent in society. Not many people feel comfortable about discussing their mental health struggles, and honestly, I’ve always sort of been one of those people. I talk very openly about my anxiety with my close friends, my immediate family and my fiancé, but it’s not something I’m exactly eager to shout from the rooftops. I’d like for the people I work with not to have any clues about it. I never revealed it to any of my classmates or my professors. I just always felt that it was the sort of thing that needed to be kept silent, or at least not have attention drawn to.

I’m very lucky because my anxiety is not debilitating and, to be honest, I’ve never had it diagnosed. But believe me when I say that I know I suffer from anxiety because I have read enough about it and seen enough examples of it in my life to know what it looks like. Although it is most certainly a different experience for each and every person, I have witnessed enough different forms of anxiety to know that my nerves and worries are more severe than most other peoples’. And perhaps I should feel shy about writing this post (even know, as I write it, I wonder if I will ever actually post it on my blog), but part of me just wants to write about my personal experiences, not only to get them out there for others who may be struggling, but also to help sort through them myself. Writing has always been a cathartic and therapeutic pastime for me, and so it seems like the best method to unravel my anxieties and get to the root of them.

My anxiety manifests itself as a preoccupation with things that are unlikely and illogical, but terrifying. I become fixated on one idea, one fear or source of nervousness, and I find it hard to stop my fixation and rumination on this notion until another one slips in to replace it. Don’t get me wrong, I have good periods when I’m not that consciously anxious about anything in particular, but at any given moment, if I sit down and think long enough, I will be able to pinpoint one or two things to be nervous about. As I said, these things are often totally outlandish and ridiculous, and yet I latch onto that slim chance that it may happen and sometimes make myself sick at the thought. I am getting better at realizing that my anxieties have no actual basis in reality, but that doesn’t mean that I’m able to overcome them entirely. I may never be able to do that, and I am strangely okay with that…I know that anxiety will be a part of who I am forever, and I also know that it will be one of the biggest things in my life that makes me strong and resilient. I try as much as I can to use my anxiety to my advantage, to try to become a stronger person because of it, as hard as that may often be. It has made me resourceful and driven to persevere and not let it stop me.

My anxiety is also always worse in times when I am incandescently and extremely happy. For whatever reason, it seems like, whenever I am most content and confident, my anxiety kicks in and reminds me that everything can disappear in a flash. It’s the ultimate manifestation of the “glass half empty” mentality…my anxiety is constantly there to encourage me to be prepared to lose everyone and everything, to make me believe that happiness is fleeting and fragile. These are the points when my anxiety is most exhausting, because I am most frustrated with myself. These are also the times, though, when I feel most compelled to work on my anxiety, to try to combat it by being even more joyous and ignoring the tiny voice inside me that warns me to be pessimistic. It is at these moments that I get fed up with myself and my overactive brain and try to live fearlessly and boldly!

Recently, however, it came to my attention that 3 of my biggest most all-encompassing anxieties would absolutely prevent me from living the life I have always professed to want. Ever since I was young, but definitely more so now that I have moved out to my own home, I have been predominantly anxious about 3 things: fire, lice and bed bugs. I think that most people would be afraid of these 3 things and the inconveniences they cause, but my anxiety will go to the point of exhaustion, where I am checking my hair every night, or pulling my bed apart to get at my mattress, or feeling terrible nerves whenever I am out even though I checked that the oven was off 3 times before leaving. It does tire me out, no question, to have these 3 worries constantly at the back of my mind, and I have actually gotten to the point in this fatigued state where I have almost broken down in tears after seeing a firetruck randomly drive in the vague direction of my home. Again, I think most, if not all, people would be terrified by the thought of enduring a fire or the inconvenience of having lice or bed bugs, but my anxiety causes me to take that fear to the extreme.

Which brings me to why I could never be a Victorian… It is a pretty widely known fact that the 3 most prevalent issues in Victorian society were fire, lice and bed bugs. As coincidental as this may seem, I wonder if maybe my anxieties stemmed from reading and watching so many Victorian stories when I was growing up. In any case, it’s no shock to anyone to learn that a large part of London burnt down in 1666…although that was centuries before the Victorian era, fires were still a huge occurrence in Victorian England. And don’t even get me started on lice and bed bugs…it seems that almost every Victorian household had them, and I once read an article somewhere that suggested that at any given moment in Victorian society, 85% of children had head lice. I have to be frank, I didn’t want to do any research for this post as I wanted to speak of my own personal ideas more than anything else, so those statistics may be off. But there is no doubt that the things I fear on a regular basis were spreading rapidly during the Victorian era.

When my best friend, CV, mentioned to me that I could never live in the Victorian era because all of my greatest fears were a viable risk, I was immediately disappointed. Time machines don’t exist (just yet), so it wasn’t like I was exactly missing out on a trip to Victorian England…but at the same time, it felt like my anxiety was actively preventing me from doing something I had always wanted to do. Generally, I don’t let my anxiety get in my way, but here was an example of a limitation, a society I couldn’t have lived in comfortably no matter how much I love it and wish I could visit it. It was shocking, to say the least, to think that this lifestyle I put on such a pedestal was also one that would have terrified me on a daily basis…and it was eye opening. Anxiety should never ever prevent you from doing anything, and that is something that is not always easy to wrap your mind around when you’re having an anxiety attack or fixating on something. For me, it was helpful to have this reminder, to have a moment of clarity where I realized that these things I fear are things that other people have gone through and survived, and are things that don’t happen all that often in a time I am very fortunate to live in. It was an interesting source of perspective for me, a little extra jolt to try to force down my anxieties about these issues, to try to talk myself out of them and work through them.

I am and always will be a Victorianist, and it seems that my own particular Victorian condition is to be wary of the very same things that my Victorian counterparts and idols would have been concerned about. Whatever that says about my anxiety, it does remind me that there are certain things I will never be able to dodge or control, no matter what time I live in, and that it would not necessarily be simpler to live in what many people perceive as a simpler time. At the very least, I am reminded now, on a daily basis, that the people of the past had many more reasons to be afraid (by my standards, anyway), and yet they lived, they didn’t fear, they somehow managed to go up against greater risks than I face currently. So if Queen Victoria can be strong, surrounded by all her candles and gas lamps, why can’t I? I think I can, because I do, after all, have all those Victorian inclinations, both good and bad, way deep down inside me.

Janille N G

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

Broken Prince & Twisted Palace ~ #JNGReads

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

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

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

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

*WARNING: There are SPOILERS ahead!*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Princess ~ ❥❥❥.5

Broken Prince ~ ❥❥❥❥

Twisted Palace ~ ❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Place Between the Pillars ~ #JNGReads

❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

The Place Between the Pillars by Brandon Glossop is a novel that I would not have picked up of my own accord, but that every person should pick up and read at some point in their life. It follows the life of John Hall, an Afghanistan veteran who struggles to reintegrate himself into society after his service in the army and deals primarily with substance abuse issues, aspects of PTSD and extreme feelings of hatred and prejudice. While this is not normally the type of book I would rush to pick up and devour, it is one of the more important and poignant novels I have read this year, and it is undoubtedly full of subject matter that every person should encounter and be forced to investigate. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Place Between the Pillars from the author himself, and I am very grateful to Brandon Glossop, not only for allowing me the opportunity to delve into his specific work, but also for opening my eyes to issues that I would’ve otherwise been totally blind to.

I don’t always do this when reviewing a novel, but in this particular case, I felt it best to write notes as I read and transcribe them below. I feel that this way of writing a review more easily and accurately reflects my various emotions throughout my entire reading process, and so I felt that this sort of review would come across as more genuine. But first, I’d like to provide a few general thoughts on the novel as a whole, before delving into more detailed notes from my reading process…

I haven’t read a book like this since my Master’s. It wasn’t a pleasant or pleasurable reading experience whatsoever, but it was an important one. The novel packs a punch, it hits the reader hard and it deals with subject matter that is in no way light or frivolous, even when it is presented with sarcasm and dry humour. It is a book that cannot be taken or entered into lightly.

Rather than being enjoyable, this book is informative. There are different types of reading experiences, and entering into a study of The Place Between the Pillars is a didactic rather than a relaxing one. It is a story that begs you to think, that is designed to shock the reader and make them uncomfortable. It isn’t an easy journey by any standards, and yet it feels like a necessary one, particularly in this day and age.

The reason I could not give this book a full 5 stars is because part of me wishes it was narrated in the first person. I think that style would’ve made it a lot easier for me to feel emotionally connected to Hall and would’ve allowed me to better empathize with and pity him. This is not to say that I think pity is always a good sentiment, but in this case, I feel it would’ve helped me to understand Hall better and feel less contempt toward him. Although the dialogues are very well-written, I also craved first person narration at times because I wanted to know what Hall really sounded like, inside his own mind, and fully uncensored. I don’t see this as a real criticism, though…if anything, it is testament to just how complex Hall’s characterization is that I wanted to get to know him better…to get inside him.

What I Thought During My Reading of The Place Between the Pillars

(These notes were written sequentially, as I read the narrative, and so my thoughts and emotions do bounce around quite a bit. It is, however, the most honest representation of what I went through as I read John Hall’s story.)

– Very graphic! You feel the wounds as if you have them – I felt physically ill at times!

* “Hall rubbed his face and looked at Hartford. Hartford looked hung over, but he was still Hartford – still human. Hall felt like something less.”

– Alcohol problem = substance abuse issues slowly build up.

* “You don’t need it…make this your last one.” = Hall thinks this and then is back to drinking 3 days later/in the next chapter…this will be a frustrating, back and forth process.

– Finding it a tad difficult to get a grasp on location at the beginning. If you’re not up on army protocol, it’s a bit jolting (for example, I wish some of the acronyms were written out, like IRF, PT, LAVs). The narration is disjointed and jarring, which is a great way to portray Hall’s substance abuse = he is out of it and so are we.

– Glossop’s descriptions are so detailed that I myself started to feel exhausted, disoriented and sick along with Hall. But, at the same time, Hall is such a flawed character that I don’t know how to feel about him. Do I feel pity? Contempt? I think Glossop wants to elicit empathy more than anything.

– Tons of vulgarity (for example, Hall blacking out and sleeping with a 15 year old)…very mature subject matter!

*racism (against Middle Eastern people) *sexism (women as whores) *alcoholism (BUT not perceived as serious or taken seriously!)

* “‘When I die, I want to know what it feels like. I want to experience it. It only happens once, and who knows, it might feel good. If not, then fuck it, it wouldn’t last long.’” = very dark and disturbing!

– Part of me felt like the story should be in first person (see my comments above)…BUT then we would sympathize more with Hall…plus, he’s blacked out for most of it anyway!

– Alcohol to MDMA…the addictions are progressing…

– Some scenes, like Hall bloody and getting out of bed, are so vivid and clearly described that I felt physically ill and my body was tingly!

– Everything is described in such meticulous detail (for example, Hall’s dinner, reading and YouTube videos, the route of his run). We feel every breath with Hall, even when nothing much happens.

– It’s heartbreaking in a way because just as Hall is recovering and getting a hold on things, he falls into another addiction. But is his life too boring? Does it lack purpose and stimulus?

– Wright’s diatribe on Middle Eastern men… Alludes to the issue of othering the enemy and overgeneralizing about an entire race of people. It is the “Us vs. Them” mentality taken to the extreme…a fundamental danger of being in the army.

– I’m not sure if I hate Hall or feel sorry for him. But how much is he to blame for? It is a much larger problem that has made him into a “monster”, but it is so hard not to judge from the standpoint of someone who has never been through what he has!

– I hate Hall, but I feel guilty for hating him because there’s a bigger reason for why he is the way he is. It is a very challenging experience for the reader!

– Hall’s diatribe on Middle Eastern people is even worse than Wright’s. He is relentless and cruel and blind to the inhumanity of what he says. And yet, he is speaking from “personal experiences” and his opinions are flawed and fucked up because of what he saw and endured. As someone who is half Middle Eastern and marrying a Middle Eastern man, I was immediately offended, but also appalled that Hall was forced into this way of thinking… How can it be reversed or stopped? What do we have to do to prevent these repercussions?

– I do like Kitty as a character. She seems to represent all of us, our shock, fear, disgust and pity… “‘You sounded sadistic, John. You sounded evil.’”

– Hall recognizes that he is wrong BUT there is a part of him that has truly suffered. He has hatred because he was wronged. What are we to make of this? “‘Well, shit, Kitty, I spent two years being trained to kill people…’”

Chapter 26 is utterly brilliant! It is entirely dialogue and written so well. It represented such realistic conversation. Glossop is a master at creating dialogue!

– I am actually feeling anxiety for Kitty! I like her a lot!

– The last third of the novel mostly centers on Hall and Kitty doing A LOT of drugs, and it made me very anxious to see them fall apart. I want them to get their acts together. They were sober for 3 months, so can’t they do it again?

– Honestly, reading about Hall and Kitty getting high makes me feel physically ill and itchy. The writing style is simple and stripped down, but that causes the reader to feel it more acutely.

Touching Moments: 1) Hall playing with the boy in Afghanistan, throwing rocks with him and hoping he will survive. 2) Hall interacting with the Muslim woman in the pet store and letting her son pet his cat. These scenes seem to allude to a buried humanity in Hall and a chance at redemption. They are moments of heart amidst depravity.

* “‘I went there to sort out my PTSD, to sort out the cause of my drinking and coke habit, and they wouldn’t touch it….they told me I couldn’t talk about anything that happened overseas, because, get this, they were worried it might traumatize the other clients.’” = This quote directly sums up our society’s failings with regards to veterans.

– Will sharing the story of the death of his friend Brett Phillips was so graphic and made me feel physically ill. Glossop is a skilled writer! He knows how to force the reader to visualize things they don’t want to!

– A heart wrenching feeling at the end that Hall will never get his life together or kick his bad habits. A very bleak and cynical tone and feeling. Such a heartbreaking conclusion with no optimism!

“‘Well I just happen to have all the ingredients for the John Hall special…coke, oxy, and MDMA.’”

There is a difference between books and literature, that much is certain. Glossop clearly has the potential to write literature. And while these sorts of hard hitting, profound novels are harder for readers to pick up because they demand a responsible and focused reading, they are the most worthwhile stories to read and encounter. Glossop, in The Place Between the Pillars, writes a story that is not only worth reading, it is a necessary read and I would recommend it to any and every adult. We all have much to learn from it.

My Favourite Passage from the Novel…

(Glossop’s writing really shines here and his potential as a writer is clear!)

“In war, death is not a very important thing. When it happens, the importance falls on how to solve it – who takes what job, what to do with the body, and how equipment is to be redistributed. If you are affected by it, you are expected to solve any resulting issues that might jeopardize your effectiveness as a soldier or inform your chain of command so that they can do it for you. In war, death is a stoppage. But in the civilized world, nothing is more important than death. Wallpaper and carpets can scream of it for years.”

*A huge thank you to Brandon Glossop for providing me with a copy of The Place Between the Pillars. It was my pleasure to read and review it!*

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

Cruel Beauty ~ #JNGReads

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

My Thoughts As I Read

As of pg. 125

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

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

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

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

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

As of pg. 144

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As of pg. 238

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

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

– VERY reminiscent of Jane Eyre.

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

As of pg. 269

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

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

As of pg. 300

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

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

– Okay, that quote is a good one!

……

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

As of The End

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

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

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

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

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart