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: 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

INFP (Myers Briggs and Fictional Characters)

I’m really into personality tests, so when I saw this post on The Bumbling Bookworm’s blog, I was inspired to do my own take on it! What people are doing is taking the Myers Brigg’s personality test, which will leave you with a series of four letters to classify your personality. Obviously we’re all unique, so the descriptions are pretty general, but this fun site also tells you which book characters you share a personality type with!

Personally, I’m an INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Percieving), which means I’m a huge idealist. Look at this cute quote!

Like the flowers in spring, INFP’s affection, creativity, altruism and idealism will always come back, rewarding them and those they love perhaps not with logic and utility, but with a world view that inspires compassion, kindness and beauty wherever they go.

What? That’s so nice! (Source)

Famous INFPs include William Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and Tom Hiddleston, so I’m pretty happy with that result!

But here’s the exciting bit: which fictional characters are also INFPs?

Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis)

Lucy Pevensie

I love Narnia so much! I’m really happy to share my result with Lucy.

Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell)

Hiccup

Score! How to Train your Dragon is one of my favourite movies of all time…ever.

Violet Parr from The Incredibles

Violet Parr

 

Okay, so this one isn’t a book (unless it is in which case please tell me!) but it’s still pretty awesome so it made the list.

Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkein)

Frodo Baggins

 

I’ll take it! I always wanted to be a hobbit.

Marius from Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)

Marius

 

I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this one…Maybe it’s just the spontaneous singing?

Erik (The Phantom) from The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)

The Phantom

 

Oh my.

Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Jane Bennett

 

I love Jane! I’m really pleased with this one!

Romeo Montague from Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)

Romeo Montague

 

I’m not overjoyed about this one. And it was really hard to choose between an angsty picture of Leonardo DiCaprio and The Guy Who Looks Like Zac Efron But Isn’t. I’ve made my choice.

That’s all for me! What personality type are you? Let me know which characters correspond to yours!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

 

Month in Books: September 2014

This month has been my best reading month this year! I had a lot of spare time working as a receptionist, and hanging around before university, so I got through quite a selection! As always, you can clicking the title will send you to the Goodreads page for the book.

Tales from Ovid – Ted Hughes – 5 stars This is Ted Hughes’ translation and interpretation of some of the Roman poems presented in The Ovid. They’re nicely written and very accessible to read.

Disappearing in Plain Sight – Francis L. Guenette – 3.5 stars The story of a small lake-side community that run a camp for teenagers who are working through problems. It’s a great read, with a real emphasis on psychology so if you’re into that, this book may be for you! I reviewed this here.

Be Bright: Living for Christ at University – Dr Andrew King – 4 stars The title is pretty self-explanatory! This is a really short little book that is both wise and very practical.

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars This is a really well-loved contemporary romance, although I’ll admit I was expecting more magic and less Jacqueline Wilson.

New Weather – Paul Muldoon – 5 stars This is the most expensive collection of poetry I’ve ever come across! That said, it’s really beautiful and thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed working through these poems.

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkein – 5 stars I loved this! It was my first Tolkein book, so I was excited to get stuck in. The world, characters and whimsical story-telling completely enthralled me. I wrote a post about it here.

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower – Elizabeth Hein – 5 stars I reviewed this here! I really loved this story, which I think is perfectly described here: “A moving, surprisingly humorous, sometimes snarky novel about life, friendship… and cancer.”

The Luck Uglies – Paul Durham – 4 stars I believe this is what you call ‘Middle Grade’ reading, but I flew threw it. It’s a great fantasy story with lovely characters, and it’s just so much fun.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Roald Dahl – 4 stars I’m actually not Dahl’s biggest fan, but I did really like this story! It’s unusual and fun with a strong moral core.

Goldfinger – Ian Fleming – 4 stars Seventh in the James Bond original series, this is actually the first one I’ve ever read! I really enjoyed it, and wrote a review here.

Get Unstuck, Be Unstoppable – Valorie Burton – 5 stars I wrote a review here. This is a Christian self-help book, and I found the layout and content really helpful and relevant.

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding – 3 stars Yes. This is the story where a lot of stranded children take over an island and go crazy. It was genuinely terrifying.

Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood – 4 stars This is a book made up of what were originally Atwood’s lectures on creative writing. It’s been described as erudite, chatty and fun, and I think that’s completely accurate!

Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane – 4 stars A really psychological read set in a mental institute on an isolated island. I wrote a review here.

That Summer – Sarah Dessen – 4 stars This is my first Sarah Dessen book, and it really wasn’t what I was expecting! It’s a sweet and relatable little contemporary.

Love, Rosie – Cecelia Ahern – 5 stars I wrote a review here. I absolutely loved this book! The quirky structure and heart-warming characters really made it something special for me.

And that’s a wrap on September! (Sixteen books – I think that’s my record!) What have you been reading? Are you interested in any of the titles listed above?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

The Ethics of Frankenstein

Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I’m assuming we’re all at least aware of the story: ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein takes it upon himself to inject a collage of human parts with the spark of life. He creates what he immediately labels as a monster, and rejects his creature. Left alone, the ‘monster’ must discover for himself humanity, and their immediate rejection.

What I’m interested in looking at is where the characters went wrong, and what they should have done.

The Creation of Life

Frankenstein took it upon himself to ‘play God’, and try to benefit the human race through his creation of a larger more powerful version of a man. Is it okay to attempt to create life? Is that our responsibility? And more importantly, should Frankenstein not have found a team of fellow enthusiasts to keep him in check, and to help with assessing the risks of his endeavours? To my mind, one of Mr Frankenstein’s greatest flaws was his tendency towards solitude, despite the negative effects on his health. I think he needed a confidant to help him work through the massive ethical issues he was dealing with.

Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.

– Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

The Label

As soon as Frankenstein set eyes on his creation, he stopped calling it a man and switched to using terms like monster, creature and – interestingly – demon. The connotations of demon are that the creature – that we know came to life by the hands of a man – belongs in hell. Was it really the ugliness that made him so repulsive to every human he encountered? Was Frankenstein in the right to immdeiately damn what he had made? Is death so untouchable that attempting to reverse its effects is essentially horrific and unnatural?

The Definition of Human

What is the definition of human? Frankenstein’s monster was made from human  body parts; he felt and thought and bled. Was it solely the fact that he had not always been alive that made him ‘demonic’ rather than a man? There are lots of religious allusions in this book: was the unnatural creation of the creature what damned it, and if so, how is that just?

The Promise

This particular paragraph may contain spoilers. There comes a point where the monster approaches his maker and asks for a mate, promising to take the new creature and hide in the South American wilderness, never again to be seen by man. Frankenstein agrees, and then goes back on his promise. I’m definitely of the opinion that to go back on his promise was cruel, but that to have made such a promise with such uncertainty was also very wrong. Should a second monster have been made? Was it fair of the monster to ask for another conscious creature to be made for a purpose contracted on her behalf?

Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways—air, and water, and land—because of ungovernable science.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I think questions like these are really interesting – and important – to think about, especially in the ‘safe’ context of a fictional situation. I’d love to hear where you stand on some of these issues, and what you would have done should you have been in the same dilemma. Was Frankenstein really blameless?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Review: How to Climb the Eiffel Tower – Elizabeth Hein

I received this book as part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower – Elizabeth Hein – 5 stars

Publication Date: October 1 2014

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower

This book has become one of my all-time favourites. My ability to form a coherent review may be severely stunted by how much I loved it.

The story follows Lara Blaine, a super-fit workaholic who’s running from a tragic past. When she gets diagnosed with cancer, the world of relative safety she’s built around herself is shaken to the foundations.

While the story and beautiful characterisation is poignant and moving, it’s also acutely relateable. There were times when I looked up from the pages half convinced that had cancer – that’s how realistic Ms Hein’s character is.

In spite of the sober subject matter, the story is one of hope, of healing on more than one level and of fresh starts. It’s a grounded, accurate and enlightening tale of friendship and overcoming fears.

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower is fantastically written, and the plot was a perfect amalgamation of all of the factors in Lara’s life. I loved the careful growing of relationships (especially with Vanessa) and the way we get to see our protagonist grow as a person. I was, however, a little thrown by the suddenness of her romantic pairing (I was rooting for Tom!).

Jane and Lara also have a great relationship – their selfless natures and their unfamiliarity with the art of friendship make them a joy to read about.

My only real complaint about the book doesn’t affect the text at all; it’s just that I felt the cover image didn’t quite do the novel justice. This isn’t a wishy-washy rom-com, but a candid, down-to-earth story of life and – more importantly – of hope.

This book actually comes out in a few days – October 1st – so definitely check it out!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: Goldfinger – Ian Fleming

Goldfinger – Ian Fleming – 4 stars

Goldfinger

This was actually my first time reading an original James Bond book! (I’ve dabbled in the ‘Young Bond’ books by Charlie Higson) Although it is the seventh in the series, it’s not difficult at all to pick up on the premise. It’s almost everything I could have asked for in a tale of espionage: adventure, suspense and a dash of cool gadgetry.

Sadly, James Bond is so iconic and the stories so widely alluded to that a lot of the plot components weren’t surprising to me. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Fleming is wildly creative and fiercely intelligent; it just lost the element of surprise.

In this story, Agent 007 takes on the challenge of bringing down thief and swindler Mr Goldfinger, only to find that he may be in a little over his head.

The plot trundles along perfectly well until the golf scene – as someone who knows nothing whatsoever about golf, all the sports jargon went completely over my head. It was long and intricately described, but all I really wanted to know was who won.

I’m going to be honest with you now – this novel is a strong ‘five star’ candidate. It’s well written, gripping and fantastically plotted. What really tainted the experience for me was the fact that James Bond is kind of a jerk. Let’s talk about his womanising. He forces the villain of the story to send him his secretary for no other purpose than his own pleasure. Does he not consider the situation he’s putting this woman in? Can he really be surprised when she ends up dead? After heavily contributing to the cause of her death, surely he would never even consider pursuing her own sister…Oh wait.

The thing that got me was that the writer seemed to fully support his character. There were comments made in the prose – outside of the character’s thoughts – that bordered on misogyny and were well in the realm of chauvinism. Women are given no power in this story! Not only that, but Fleming explains away the brutal promiscuity and accidental murders in flashes of emotional reflection. Wait, are we supposed to sympathise now?

There’s more. I can understand that at the time this was written, World War 2 was still fresh in everyone’s minds. I’d hate to cry ‘racism’, but there are a few lines in this book that really didn’t sit well with me. Negative generalisations of ethnic groups is never ok – never mind which side of the war they were on!

If we can get past the shaky ethics, Goldfinger is a genuinely good novel. I don’t suggest a boycott or anything so drastic; just a little care. Don’t believe everything you read!

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think I’m over-reacting?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

100 Acre Wood Book Tag

This cute Winnie the Pooh inspired tag was created by Leaning Lights.

Christopher Robin: A book/character that feature compassion/patience/acts of kindness

My pick is Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I loved Vianne’s way of dealing with people; she’s incredibly patient and a great listener.

Chocolat

Piglet: A book that made you afraid

I tend not to read anything overly scary, as I’m really quite sensitive! I recently read The Protector by Danielle Lennee Davis; it’s a murder mystery that does get very suspenseful at times. I’m not going to lie – it’s shaken me up a little bit! (Fantastic book though, highly recommended)

The Protector (DLD)

Eeyore: A book or character that is sarcastic

I’m going to pick Simon from Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series; he’s hilarious and has such a dry sense of humour.

“Have you tried talking to her?”
“No, we’ve been punching her repeatedly in the face instead. Why, do you think that won’t work?”

City of Bones

Kanga: A character that you hated at first but grew to love

Hang on – do people hate Kanga? This is news to me! Anyway, my choice for this question has to be Warner from the Shatter Me trilogy (Tahereh Mafi)- I’m not going to expand because this is spoiler-y ground. It’s YA Dystopian, but written beautifully and almost X-men-like in plot.

Shatter Me

Roo: A book that made you happy!

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson – definitely. It’s just completely original, and the centenarian protagonist is both hilarious and compelling.

The One Hundred Year Old Man...

Rabbit: A book/character that annoyed you

The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda. I had such I hopes for this book as it had a great premise…but the whole thing was a flop.

The Hunt (AF)

Tigger: The funniest book you’ve read thus far

This is difficult! I might have to say Mr Gum and the Power Crystals by Andy Stanton. It’s a children’s book, but I laughed so much. It’s probably quite an acquired sense of humour, but I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of silliness.

Mr Gum and the Power Crystals

Owl: A book that was confusing to read

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s no fault of the book; just that I really struggled to keep track of all the unfamiliar names. The book is set in a fictional Nigerian tribe, which explains all the unusual proper nouns!

Things Fall Apart

Winnie the Pooh: A book/series you cannot live without!

Well…I wouldn’t say I’m dependent on any book or series, but one that has played a huge part in my childhood is The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

The Chronicles of Narnia

And that’s the 100 Acre Wood Book Tag! If you’ve done it or plan to do it, feel free to link your post – I’d love to see what you come up with.

Would you agree with some of my choices, or do you have completely different picks?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani