Book Reviews, Historical

Review – ‘The Miniaturist’ – Jessie Burton

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The Miniaturist has not only topped bestseller lists since it was published in July 2014, but has won award after award. When I found myself lost for choice in the bookshop, I decided to take the hint and pick The Miniaturist up off the bestsellers’ shelf, intrigued by the synopsis on the back cover. After reading it, I can understand why it has done so well. It was mysterious and gripping, the characters had depth and it was beautifully written.

18498569The story revolves around Petronella in 17th century Amsterdam, who has been married to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Although he is kind to her, he is never home, leaving her with his sister Marin and their servants Cornelia and Otto, and consummates their marriage, leaving her feeling uncertain about why she is there. As a wedding present, Johannes gives his young wife Nella a miniature replica of their house, and she hires the services of a miniaturist in the town to decorate it. However, the miniaturist begins to send her things that she didn’t ask for, as if mocking her – a cradle, although she has no chance of being pregnant. She soon realises that there is something more sinister to the miniatures however, as they seem to be warning her about things in her future, and reveal secrets about the house’s inhabitants that nobody, let alone the mysterious miniaturist, should know. As secrets begin to unravel in the household and tragedy strikes, she looks to the miniaturist for help as to what to do, but must find her own two feet and learn to be independent, without the help of her husband, sister-in-law or the miniaturist.

I really enjoyed Nella as a character and reading the book from her perspective, as well as her relationships with Marin in particular. It was interesting to see her internal battle concerning what a woman should be. She feels that it is her duty to be a good wife and a mother, but she feels like she has been cheated out of this dream and so has no chance at being a ‘real’ woman. I loved her relationship and conflict with Marin, who runs the household and with whom she feels she must compete to be respected as the master’s wife. However, as their relationship evolves, seeing Nella’s view of what her role as a woman should be change was brilliant. She begins to understand why Marin has not married and how she valued her independence, and then as she discovers Marin’s secrets, understands that Marin is not simply the cold and distant woman that she believes her to be.

JessieBurton%c2%a9AlexanderJamesThe Miniaturist is written brilliantly in that there truly are secrets hidden around every corner. At no point in the book had I predicted what was to happen, which I loved, as sometimes books cannot make a surprise completely surprising, and give things away earlier on. No, with this book, I was genuinely shocked at various points, and some secrets were revealed only for you to find out that they were false, and there was yet another secret hiding around the bend. Even Cornelia, the character who I thought was the key to knowing the secrets of Nella’s household, had pieced together pieces of information incorrectly, and not even the closest members of the household, Marin and Johannes, knew each other completely. The miniaturist, despite being the mystery which occupied my thoughts most during the book, was not even the biggest mystery in the book, although she was the only unsolved one. I would have liked for Nella to meet the miniaturist, also ironically and perhaps symbolically called Nella, who, from what we learn about her, is so interesting for a 17th century woman, but I appreciate the shroud of secrecy that still covers her character. I also approve of how, although Nella does become an independent woman in charge of her own fate to an extent, her story and that of the other female characters, Marin and Cornelia, does not feel unrealistic of the time at which the novel is set.

Jessie Burton’s writing style is gentle and easy to read, and she effortlessly weaves in hints to future storylines without giving anything away too quickly, but making you intent on piecing things together. I loved how she described Amsterdam and its people, and how the house itself sometimes felt like a city within Amsterdam that I was scurrying along with the characters. Even though there were very few descriptive passages, I could visualise every scene in my head and was imagining what the characters looked like, what the rooms looked like, what the streets smelt like and the extent of the cold that the characters were experiencing so much so that I am now twiddling my thumbs waiting for a movie to be made of it to see if other people imagined it like I did. I liked that, even at the times when great revelations have been made, the writing was never over-exaggerated and overdone; I found it somewhat reminiscent of The Girl With The Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier in that all of the narrative feels peaceful and paced, despite still making your heart race at times.

The Miniaturist is a fascinating story with brilliant, complex characters and an unpredictable plot. I felt like we got to know all of the characters and the main character Nella was interesting and admirable. I would recommend this book to anybody, and genuinely hope that this book will soon be snatched up to be adapted into a movie or television adaptation.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Review – ‘Someone Else’s Fairytale’ – EM Tippetts

I bought this because it was a free on my kindle, and I am thankful that it was free, as to have had to shelve out money for it would have felt like rubbing salt in a wound. This book was fortunately a quick read, but I could not take it seriously. The characters felt nonsensical, the writing clunky and the story long-winded.

someone-elses-fairytaleThis book’s main character is Chloe Winters, a student raised by a single mother with high aspirations. One night, after volunteering with her friends to be an extra on a movie set, she catches the eye of Jason Vanderholt, a world-famous movie star. The book is a romance, and so you can guess where the pair undoubtedly end up, but other background storylines include Chloe’s psycho half-brother and a short-lived romance with her friend.

Although the premise of the story is interesting and would have made for a great chick-lit book, one of the main things that ruined the experience for me was that Chloe Winters is an absolute drag. Yes, she is an appealing character in that she is the underdog, working while studying, humble and hardworking but so many of her habits frustrated me. I would have understood her insistence on her super famous boyfriend not buying her things if she hadn’t been so anal about it and if several pages had not been dedicated to arguments about him paying for her laundry. Also, her whole chattering on about being born ‘out of wedlock’ was ridiculous to me. Not only did the language itself belong several decades ago, but it seemed like such a closed-minded perspective for an otherwise modern character. I also felt like her family background could have been approached in a more sensitive way, rather than the clumsy way with which it was written, which I felt represented single-parent families in a negative way. Additionally, Jason’s character also made me squirm. From his all-day Skyping (Does a hard-working actor really have nothing else to do?) to when he spoon-feeds Chloe ice-cream, which made me squirm so much I had to take a break from reading.

19615422Another disastrous aspect of this book was the writing style. Almost all of the story was told through dialogue between the characters, and so the book was simply a flow of constant conversations between characters. Although dialogue is a fantastic way to show who a character is, it is also necessary for readers to see a character on their own. I cannot remember a single time when Chloe was on her own and when we saw the story told through her voice and her voice only. Instead, she was always on the phone to one character, which was then following by another character walking in and a conversation between them, which was subsequently followed by Chloe going to see another character and then another phonecall. Despite the whole book being told in the first person, I don’t feel like we see Chloe at all as her own person, instead only knowing her through her relationships with others. Further, the style of the dialogue itself made me squirm, with the writer making far too frequent use of sayings like “Omigosh” and “Soooo”. This writing style is too casual for my liking and would make sense if used in a text messaging context in the book perhaps, but not in normal writing of dialogue.

Although the story itself was not a bad one, I wish that less had been covered in the book and in more depth. Halfway through the book, Chloe and Jason had ‘got together’. Instead of the book simply focusing on the ‘Will they? Won’t they?” we then had to follow them through random events in their relationship until the end, but instead, the second half of the book felt aimless. I would have preferred for the book to focus on the lead-up to their relationship further in depth, exploring their relationship more, which would have made the book feel more like a well-written novel than an awkward fanfiction.

Overall, this book had potential and a promising storyline but the execution was what let it down. The writer would have done better to have focused on one central aspect of Chloe and Jason’s relationship, and the characters got on my nerves.


Top 10 Book Couples That Should Have Been

Everybody knows the feeling. You begin to read a book and there they are – two characters who you just know belong together. Most of the time, they get together and we get our happy ending, but sometimes the characters don’t see what we see, or the writers just snatch it away from underneath them. Here is my list of ten fictional couples that should have been, or would have been had external forces not separated them. (All pictures are from movie or TV adaptations.)

  1. Pip and Biddy (Great Expectations)

Great Expectations, 2011Pip is possibly one of the most frustrating characters in all of literature. He fails to see what is right beneath his nose and completely misses the fact that his childhood friend Biddy is in love with him because he’s too busy chasing after Estella. Admittedly, Pip did not deserve Biddy, but she was definitely the best person for him – scrap that – the best person for anyone! Biddy is a wonderful character; she teaches Pip everything she knows so that he can be a gentleman for Estella, and helps take care of his family when he completely forgets about them. Now, the fact that they did not end up together is upsetting enough, but what makes it even worse is that Biddy moves on without him! Pip not only misses his chance at love with Biddy, but he loses out to his own much-loved uncle, so there is absolutely no hope of him ‘winning her back’ considering that the bond between them is so strong.

  1. Jo and Laurie (Little Women)

movie_littlewoman1If Jo March had accepted the advances of her childhood friend Theodore Laurence (or Laurie), they would have had a passionate, explosive love story. Although Jo insists that they are not made for each other, I must object. Yes, they would have argued for a large part of their lives together but they would have found a balance and I believe they would have been genuinely happy together! Although Jo’s refusal turned out to be one of her best decisions at the time, spurring her on to move to New York, where she wrote her book and eventually met Professor Bhaer, I always wondered why she could not have returned, a more mature Jo, and meet a more mature Laurie, and settle down. I don’t deny that Professor Bhaer was a great match for Jo, but SO WAS LAURIE and the romantic part of myself would have much preferred them to reunite than him to chase after her younger sister (creepy) and her to find love elsewhere.

  1. Marius and Eponine (Les Miserables)

Les-Miserables-Samantha-Eddie_510x317We all know that Eponine was a far better character than Cosette. Not only did she go against the wishes of her family to help Marius (and even helped him find with Cosette), but she was educated, fiery, and had more personality and wit than Cosette probably had in her little finger. She was the every-girl, and we love her for it; struggling with unrequited love and trying to prove that she was more than what people thought of her. Not to mention, she had more than her fair share of misfortune, even when compared to the other characters, and came to a heroic end, fighting and dying alongside the Friends of the ABC, all for Marius. Just like Pip (number 1) Marius is blind and, as is the way with classic literature, the pretty orphan girl must get the prince regardless of how boring she is. Who cares about the poor, spunky gamine? I do, but apparently, Victor Hugo did not, and Eponine died the most unappreciated character of the story.

  1. Harry and Luna (Harry Potter)

odfhq2_44I appear to be the only person in the entire world that maintains that Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood would have been the perfect match. What are my reasons? Well, first of all, these two were kindred spirits from the moment they met. They had both suffered great losses in their lives and they met at a time when both were incredibly lonely. Luna had always been an outsider, and Harry was feeling more isolated than ever. Not only did Luna help Harry to see that his friends were important and that he wasn’t alone, but she was extremely brave and loyal. She exceeded everyone’s expectations of her and never doubted Harry. Although, yes, Harry probably would have found Luna’s ‘looney’ habits a little frustrating, I believe that they would have complemented each other, and I will remain in my corner of the Harry Potter fandom, imagining what Harry and Luna would have achieved together.

  1. Cecilia and Robbie (Atonement)

2Anybody who has read Atonement or seen the movie will understand that there can be no dispute regarding this couple. Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner were made for each other and, were it not for Cecilia’s younger sister Bryony’s meddling, and the war, they would not have been separated – and kept apart. Bryony’s ‘atonement’ through her book shows one of the many possible happy futures they could have shared, and makes the fact that they didn’t get it even worse.

  1. Cassandra and Stephen (I Capture the Castle)

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 13.04.32Poor Cassandra. She lost out on two perfectly acceptable suitors to the same person, her sister. Both Neal and Simon prefer Rose to her, but she has ‘Pip Syndrome’ (see above – number 1) and fails to see that Stephen dedicates all of his time to her family, particularly to her. He tries so hard to be exactly what she wants and does everything he can to please her, but never seems to match up to Simon. Thankfully for him, he decides to move on with his life and becomes a model so good for him! Unfortunately, the book ends with Cassandra having no suitors, but on a positive, she does know that she deserves more than Simon’s rebound girl.

  1. Kathy and Tommy (Never Let Me Go)

1z2j9qeSo, they got together in the end for a brief amount of time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they deserved so much more. Kathy watched Tommy slowly die, cared for him and fought for them to get a deferral and if that isn’t a sign of true love then I don’t know what is.

  1. Jess and Leslie (Bridge to Terabithia)

Jess-and-Leslie-jess-and-leslie-27283128-442-310Leslie’s death was completely uncalled for. I’m glad we got that clear. Yes, Jess and Leslie they were only about ten and so probably weren’t even thinking about things like love, but they could have had a chance and, having grown up together, could have had the most beautiful childhood sweetheart love story of all.

  1. Arya and Gendry (ASOIAF)

13430_tvclub_got_arya.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeEven though several books have passed since Arya and Gendry even crossed paths, I hold out hope of these two meeting again. When they were together, they were the perfect pair and bounced off each other fantastically (as they also do in the TV series). Now, it is difficult to see Arya falling in love with anybody sometimes, but if she was going to fall in love with anyone, it would be Gendry – low-born, strong, and kind, with none of the airs and graces of princes or lords, just a nice, honest and loyal man.

  1. Robb Stark and the Frey Girl (ASOIAF)

Just imagine all of the hassle we could have avoided if Robb had married the Frey girl like he was supposed to. 51bb31e5049bf Do you have any pairings to add to the list? Comment below to share yours!