Review: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – 4.5 stars

The Miniaturist

I was in a kind of fiction-reading-slump when I picked up this novel, and – no exaggeration – the first paragraph snapped me right out of it. This book is beautifully written, well-crafted both structurally and syntactically, and just thoroughly enchanting.

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, the story focuses on the lives of an unusual little household. A wealthy merchant marries a country girl young enough to be his daughter, and she moves in with his prim and religious sister, their nosy maid, African manservant, and two dogs. Although some of the characters may seem like fairly run-of-the-mill story components, it’s the relationships between all of these people that kicks the story into being. The people are three dimensional and complicated, and they are what pulls the plot along at a good pace.

This book is full of twists and turns that I couldn’t have predicted, and the unpredictability – the mystery – is what I think will make this book really memorable for me. This is just a sample of really really good story-telling.

One little thing that did niggle me was the ideology. There are a lot of key issues addressed in some way in this book (no spoilers!), but there were a few times that characters spoke and reasoned about these things in a way that would fit perfectly into our modern society, but that seemed a little anachronistic for their context. I wanted more transition; more space so that a counter-cultural stance isn’t just portrayed as moral integrity, but as something learned, discovered.

Overall though, the setting of this book is magical, and I feel pretty confident in saying that this book will drag you back to 1600’s Netherlands, and you won’t want to tear yourself away.

If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: Vicious – V.E. Schwab

Vicious – V.E. Schwab – 4 stars

Vicious

I originally read this in 2012, and I loved it. It blew my mind: it was gritty and there were superpowers – but not in a cheesy, muscles-and-Lycra kind of way – and it has this snappy, non-linear structure. I picked it up again last week for a re-read, and to be honest, I kind of wish I didn’t. It was the teeny-tiniest bit better in my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think this is a really good novel. It’s careful of cliches, and I think it puts a lot of work into being believable. ‘Vicious’ does all the superhero-y things you need it to do – moral conflict, ethical tension, violence at a safe distance – and humanises them. This book sports a cast of really fantastic character ideas. Maybe that was part of the problem, though: the characters never seemed completely realised. They played roles and sported brilliant quirks and motivations, but they never quite made it off the page. It hurts me to say this, because the character concepts are phenomenally imaginative, but a book whose distinction lies in humanity needs to excel in it, and I’m not 100% sure this one did.

The pace was full throttle throughout; this is a very quick and intense book to read. Although it was definitely violent, it wasn’t unnecessary gory – it dealt out its action scenes efficiently, vividly and with real class. Although there are a lot of injuries throughout the story, it’s never sadistic, and that’s something I look for in books (as a slightly sensitive person).

So we have a cool plot, made interesting by non-chronological story-telling and characters that are starting to sneak out of their little stereotype boxes. I gave this four stars, because although there was something that felt a little flat, I powered through right to the end, and found the whole thing thoroughly satisfying.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you know she’s planning on bringing out a sequel?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: Flawed – Cecelia Ahern

Thank you to Harper Collins and Netgalley for letting me have a copy!

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern – 4 stars

Flawed

I picked this up out of love for Cecelia Ahern. I couldn’t get enough of Love, Rosie (I reviewed it here), and I was really excited to read her take on YA.

This story is set in a Dystopian society, where moral perfection is encouraged and enforced by ‘The Guild’. If these people catch the slightest hint of weakness or defectiveness of character, they march you off to court and physically brand you as punishment. Those who are branded – or ‘Flawed’ – are ostracised from society and are forced to live under an oppressive and separate set of rules.

I have mixed feelings about a lot of things in this book, but I want to be completely fair: once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. This book is pacy and intriguing, with an interesting protagonist.

It might have been the first couple of chapters that gave me doubts. It wasn’t that they were uninteresting, it was just that they reminded me so much of Divergent that I struggled to see this as an original story.

Once I got to know some of the characters, however, I pretty much managed to get over my inhibitions. It’s a thoughtful story, and although there’s not a lot of ‘letting the reader decide what they think is right’, the concept is strong.

I liked Celestine as a protagonist. She was shy and rule-abiding to a fault, and we got to see some real character growth throughout the story. I also loved that she was mixed race – I always think we need more diversity in YA! We have an awful lot of white western girls represented, and I think we can even out that ratio (And no, Cinder doesn’t count. She’s from the moon.)

I also loved the parents and the family dynamic. In fact, I thought all the relationships in the book were dealt with well…except for Celestine’s romance with Art. Art was written off as weak and unsupportive, as a quitter, although I’m fairly sure he disguised himself to see Celestine at her trial, barged into the courtroom and publicly stood up to his father. I’d have said that was fairly good reason to stick around?

Overall, there were a lot of really lovely things about this book. It was mature enough to be shocking, and tastefully dealt with so as to be accessible. I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next book. That said – there was something a little unmemorable about it, too. It wasn’t at all bad, I just found it a little lacking in that special spark – that intangible something that slips a story under your skin, and sets it apart from everything else in its genre.

I gave this book 4 stars, and I really think a lot of people will enjoy it.

If you’ve read it too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux – 3 stars 

The Phantom of the Opera

I recently just finished reading ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for ages, because I’ve been completely enamoured with the musical for years now. It was a really exciting concept: I was envisioning the musical’s story beautifully rendered in magical, dancing prose. In my head, this book was a masterpiece, and I think that’s why I’m a bit disappointed with it.

If you’re not familiar with the story, ‘the phantom’ referred to in the title is the rumoured Opera Ghost abiding in the Paris Opera House. He asks for money, and for Box Five to be left vacant for him every showing. No one has ever seen him, until he falls in love with one of the singers. It’s a big story: dramatic and exciting, and I think it’s crafted with great flair.

It did bother me that I was reading a book so similarly written to Dracula, though. Obviously this in itself is not a bad thing, but I thought this was another class of book, you know? I was expecting poetry, and all I got was a nosy narrator joining up a series of diary entries and letters from participating characters. Again, there’s nothing bad about that; only there wasn’t really anything good about it either. I felt like the structure was a bit limp beside the grandeur of the story.

Also, ‘the phantom’ is so much creepier in the book. It makes me slightly more worried about my Meyer’s Briggs results. (if that makes no sense to you, see this post.)

The plot is – in general – beautifully and romantically creepy: I love the setting of a Parisian opera house, and there is a lot of mystery built up around the story. Kudos to Mr Leroux: it’s an amazing concept.

There’s one scene that stands out to me: when the Persian and Raoul are trapped in Erik’s torture chamber. To me, as a modern reader, it seemed so out of place, and far too James Bond for the story. It felt like an anticlimax, and I can understand why they changed it so much for the stage version. It’s not worth the effort.

Having said all of that, the book’s ending is quite perfect, and I put the book down feeling satisfied, if not blown away.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: God’s Eagles, Athletes and Pilgrims – Haide Sanchez

God’s Eagles, Athletes and Pilgrims – Haide Sanchez – 5 stars

God's Eagles, Athletes and PilgrimsThis is a book of fifty two devotionals, so it can last from 52 days to a year, depending on how often you plan on reading it. I went with a couple of times a week, so it lasted me from February to August. The title is inspired by the famous Bible verse:

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

-Isaiah 40:31

What’s lovely about this is that each devotion starts with a verse and a discussion of a concept, and then there’s a testimony. Every single ‘Week’, there’s a new person telling their story, and it’s so inspiring to hear about their lives. There are some really powerful testimonies in this book, and they’re all related so beautifully to their respective themes. This is such a well thought-out book!

One of the things that really struck me was how well-researched this book is. It’s SO in-depth! There are discussions of the original Greek and Hebrew Biblical words, and every concept, person or event that may not be familiar to everyone is explained in a footnote. I love that this book can teach the reader so much, but that it’s also managed not to leave anyone behind.There were places where it all got quite wordy, but I have it on good authority that a shorter, revised version is in the works, so we’re all good.

It’s the sort of book that you do need to read in order; there’s a real progression and continuity in the devotions so that when you get to the end, it’s powerful! All the study and reading leads to one big, wonderful truth – but, like, spoilers.

There’s a lot more I could say about this book, but it would mostly be gushy enthusiasm, so we’ll leave the review there. If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Review: 75 Uplifting Poems for Christians – AJ Barlow

75 Uplifting Poems for Christians – AJ Barlow – 5 stars

75 Uplifting Poems for Christians

I picked up this book after stumbling upon AJ Barlow’s blog, and I’m so glad I did! This book is exactly what the title would suggest it is: a little book packed full of really candid, thoughtful, and encouraging poetry.

One of the things I loved about this collection was its accessibility: there were no complex, high level theological words or concepts, and there was no need for them. Every poem is linguistically easy to understand, and yet speaks about some really profound truths.

Some of the poems were a bit Blake-esque; with simple, trotting rhythms and clear, exact rhymes, and I actually really enjoyed that. These are the sort of rhymes that are easy to learn by heart, so you can carry them with you wherever you go. There were one or two poems whose rhythm tripped me up a bit, but that’s probably just my inferior poetry-reading skills.

I think what got me the most was the unabashed positivity of the book as a whole. I loved that although difficult and sad issues were discussed, there was always this profound hopefulness, and a nod towards the future and the God who’s planned it.

I gave this book five stars because I genuinely thought it was lovely, and I am planning on going back for a re-read.

If you’re interested in sampling some of this poetry, you can read a couple of poems on the writer’s blog – click here! And if you’ve read this book, or would like to, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne – 5 stars

Manga Classics - The Scarlet Letter

Thanks to Udon Entertainment for letting me have a copy!

I’ve never read the original Hawthorne novel – it’s always looked a bit heavy and intimidating to me – so when I found the option to read it in manga form, I jumped at the chance. I’m completely new to manga, so I found the instructions at the beginning invaluable. You read from the back of the book, and from right to left. It hurt my brain at first, but you soon get into the swing of things!

The story basically follows a young woman called Hester Prynne, who is found guilty of adultery and is the mother of an illegitimate child. The punishment at that time for such a sin was a term of imprisonment, and the perpetrator was forced to where a badge bearing the letter ‘A’ in red, marking her out as a sinful woman.

Having never read the original novel, I obviously can’t comment on how closely this adaptation sticks to it. I was, however, so impressed by the richness of the characters, and by how much life the beautiful art breathed into the story. Obviously the pictures aren’t drawn to be true-to-life depictions of human beings, but in that freedom there was no less truth. Does that make sense? This story is told by cartoons, but it’s the most complex and moving thing I’ve read in a while.

I’m coming to realise that I’m probably the worst person to review this: I have no idea whether the dialogue was especially sharp (I thought it was great), or whether the page design was anything special (I loved it), or even if the length was normal (I gobbled it up in one sitting – figuratively). I am, however, really glad that this was my introduction to manga. I thought it was tight, well-crafted, and a really beautiful adaptation of a novel that I’m sure I’ll get round to reading…some time. I think it will inspire a lot of people to give the chunkier version a chance.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Also, if you have any recommendations for a beginner manga reader, please let me know 😛

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh – 5 stars

The Wrath and the DawnI’m going to start by giving you all a fair warning: THIS BOOK HAS A SEQUEL. THE SEQUEL IS NOT YET OUT. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

I can’t even describe the feeling of getting 90% through the Kindle version and realising that the remaining 10% is an excerpt of the next book…which I can’t buy yet. I feel so empty.

In all seriousness though, I freaking love this book. I’ve seen it crop up on a lot of blogs, so yesterday I thought screw it – I’m reading it. I got through it in two sittings.

The Wrath and the Dawn is technically a young adult fantasy novel, but I feel like it doesn’t sit too easily in either of those categories. It’s the story of a cursed boy-king with the blood of all his ex-wives on his hands – and it’s the story of the bride who survives.

The book is set in a sort of stylised Arabic culture, and that’s something I’d actually have liked to see a bit more of; it added a lot to the story, and gave the whole thing a really lovely other-worldly feel.

It’s also one of the most beautifully-written YA books I’ve laid hands on in a really long time. It’s such a tight plot, with well-constructed characters and just the right amount of mystery, romance and action. Ms Ahdieh is a really classy story-teller – the whole book reads like one big, exquisitely narrated aural story, and it’s the perfect style.

I absolutely can’t wait to re-read this closer to the time of the sequel’s release (please don’t disappoint me, Renee!)

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn – 4 stars

Sharp Objects

‘Sharp Objects’ is Gillian Flynn’s (author of Gone Girl) debut novel, and it’s a pretty darn good one. It’s a tense thriller, following reporter Camille who is sent back to her home town to investigate a murder, and write an article with a ‘personal touch’.

The first person narrative (through Camille’s eyes) is stunning: the prose is rich, and my little student brain had a field day getting my teeth into the abundance of imagery. It’s an indulgence that can, in the wrong hands, lead to an overly flowery and dense text, but Ms. Flynn wields her metaphors like a pro, and I love her for it.

The gradual revelations about Camille’s character were both intensely effective and tragic. I was blown away by Gillian’s ability to get right into the protagonist’s mind, and it made for a fascinating – if chilling and difficult – read. I am, I should add, really glad I didn’t read the blurb before diving into the book. Looking at it now, I feel like it tames down the issues presented into a Hollywood-esque plot point meant only to shock, whereas the book is grittier, more balanced, and so much more human.

I did have difficulty finding a character that I could really relate to, as the story is set in a small and very troubled town, but that didn’t hinder my involvement with the story. I found myself getting stuck right into the mystery, forming theories and trying to understand some of the more complex characters.

The ending was, as expected of Gillian Flynn, both shocking (if not entirely surprising) and a little bit horrific. It worked, but it almost felt like she had just come up with the worst possible scenario and rolled with it. I’m not going to spoil anyone, but I will say that I had a really hard time understanding the culprit’s reasoning.

The book is heart-wrenchingly sad and quite a lot darker than I would normally go in for, but I can’t deny the fact that this book is really really good.

Four stars from me, because Gillian Flynn is one of the writers I look up to the most. Although, I sometimes wonder if she should invest some time in counselling.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown – 2.5 stars

I think a lot of people enjoy this book, so if you’re one of those people, feel free to bask in your own happiness, and please don’t let any of my opinions get you down.

I’m going to be blunt: I think this book relies entirely on its controversy to entertain and intrigue. I know it’s fiction, and it’s allowed to be a bit out there, but when the conspiracy (which does, naturally, involve historical artifacts, world religions and a couple police chases) is the only thing about the book that is remotely surprising, I start to have issues.

I feel like this is a genre I would usually enjoy – I love the whole National Treasure-esque treasure hunt story-line, and there were things about The Da Vinci Code that I did enjoy. I loved the Paris setting – however cliche it is, the French capital is a pretty sound place to go quest-ing.

The characters had fairly interesting stories, but I couldn’t help feeling they were slightly flat, and generally unsurprising. Even the characters that had huge secrets and mistaken identities were painfully predictable. I felt like we never really got to a profound level of understanding with the characters: everything was fast-paced and any possible character development was just tossed aside. One thing that I was really pleased with character-wise was – and watch out; this is a spoiler the fact that Sophie was re-united with her family, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

I do think the ending was the highlight of the book for me (and I’m not being snarky here) – [spoiler] I thought it was perfect that the Holy Grail remained hidden, and I really liked the way the protagonists had a real peace about it.

The writing itself wasn’t bad, but nor was it particularly good. It did the job of succinct and clear narration, without really adding the shine that I think a story like this needs to float. I’m sure Mr. Brown is a very clever man, but if I return to his books, it won’t be for his writing style.

The book seems to be very action-oriented, although looking back, not that much actually happened. There’s a lot of gun-waving, and tense negotiation, but very little actual…action. I mean, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I did feel a bit cheated.

You’ll notice from my rating that I didn’t hate this book; it kept me reading, and the clues were way out of my ‘Intelligence League’, but there were a lot of areas that really disappointed me – and I’m not just talking about the somewhat ill-evidenced and shaky conspiracy against a rather inaccurate generalisation of the church.

Will I be reading more Dan Brown? Probably not, but I’m glad to have read this, if only just to understand what everyone else is talking about!

If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani