The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Published: 3rd July 2014 (print)/26th August 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Ecco/HarperAudio
Pages: 416/1 disc
Narrator: Jessie Burton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Magical Realism
★   ★  – 2 Stars

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s life changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways…

Johannes’s gift helps Nella pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation…or the architect of their destruction?

I’ve given it two stars, but by the end of it I wanted to give it 1.5. I was told this was a brilliant read, I did not find this. I persevered and hoped for something to come of it. And not only did I get no real answers, the ending was unsatisfactory and I feel a bit cheated. I don’t know whether this has to do with the magical realism side of the story, but I wasn’t a fan.

The beginning started out ok, after a prologue from an unknown voice we’re introduced to Nella and her arrival at her new life. We’re thrust into Amsterdam in the 1600s and all its glory. Burton makes it easy to understand while still having the gravitas it needed and the seriousness to understand Nella’s predicament, and her style of writing feels like it suits the era and is easy to comprehend.

I settled into the story and got used to Nella and the other characters. I was intrigued, I was curious. It does start to go a bit stale and as part two hit I was weary but something finally seemed to be happening. This didn’t last though and the story dragged on. I think Burton tried to include too much. There’s the historical story happening with sugar, plus a lot of religious elements and political components. On top of that is Nella’s place and the mystery of the miniaturist. It makes for a heavy story and one that takes a lot of pages to tell.

Some parts were predictable and it was a case of waiting for the book to catch up with what you already suspected. Other times it felt like every second chapter had a typical twist of some kind and it got to the point it was just “Oh, another twist, sure, why not’. I will give Burton some credit, she actually followed through on a few things I thought she wouldn’t, that impressed me. But in doing that she also added to the unsatisfactory feeling and the sense that while some things appeared to be resolved, nothing felt like it was. We’re left hanging, not even with a sense that we understand how things would keep going, an abrupt finish that doesn’t answer anything.

I found that I wanted to get to the end without reading the middle. I figured I could ignore this middle part and just see what happens and get the answers to the big questions that Burton keeps raising. I wanted to get to the end to find out what the whole point of it was and found nothing but disappointment. It was anticlimactic after the [supposed] build up and it felt flat.

I’d been looking forward to reading this for months and had it praised and recommended to me by a few people so I was eager to see what it was like. Not to mention the beautiful cover. To come out the other end with meagre enthusiasm is a sorry state to be in.

You can purchase The Miniaturist via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Amazon | Wordery

Book Depository | Dymocks

Advertisements

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

Published: 11th September 2001 (print)/14th May 2010  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 294 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins. 

Possible spoilers, I have a few thoughts to get off my chest.

I finally get around to reading this book and discover I’m not a big fan. It took a long time to get used to the audiobook version; the narrator wasn’t the best, but I kept going. I tried very hard to focus on the story and try to judge whether my displeasure was based on the narration or the story, and I do think I didn’t like the story as much as I thought I would. I even thought I should switch to the book to see if it made a different but it wouldn’t’ve.

The general story was good. The idea was sound and it is laid out well plot wise, the quotes and breaking up the POVs with letters between the girls was good (poor audio narration didn’t help with breaking up each girl’s story but that’s a different issue). I don’t know, there’re just so many questions I had through this book. Ok, so we can’t wash the magic pants, but they get sweated in, pond water gets on them, and a bunch of stuff. I can imagine after three months they’re gonna need a wash, no matter how super close and wonderful these four are as friends, gross, smelly jeans is not pleasant. Not to mention creepy moments where the 15 (but almost 16 we keep being reminded) girl is trying to seduce and bed a 19 year old. Which, I dunno, maybe if you are 15 you think is cool cause he’s older, but as a non 15 year old it’s creepy.

The language was very…creative. There’s a strong use of metaphors and descriptions, so many analogies and flowery language that seemed unnatural. When something could be stated simply it had to have a weird analogy out of the blue that seemed convoluted and unnecessary. I’m not against using these in books, it works and that’s what they’re there for, but Brashares goes over the top in my opinion, they spring up out of nowhere and there’s far too many of them.

In terms of characters, I think the only character and storyline I actually liked was Tibby. She seemed to be the only one who grew up, who changed for the better. The other three had variations of change but it was so minor it didn’t count. I didn’t like Bridgette and wasn’t a fan of her storyline, and the other two had their moments where they were ok but mostly annoyed me. But, they are only 15 in the book which I had to remind myself, but still.

I may have to rewatch the movie because I can’t even remember if it’s anything like the book. Perhaps I’ll enjoy that more.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

book-bite

Published: 15th April 2005 (print)/ 1st April 2013  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage/Clipper audiobooks
Pages: 288 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Nina Wadia
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When Ravi Kapoor, an overworked London doctor, reaches the breaking point with his difficult father-in-law, he asks his wife: “Can’t we just send him away somewhere? Somewhere far, far away.” His prayer is seemingly answered when Ravi’s entrepreneurial cousin sets up a retirement home in India, hoping to re-create in Bangalore an elegant lost corner of England. Several retirees are enticed by the promise of indulgent living at a bargain price, but upon arriving, they are dismayed to find that restoration of the once sophisiticated hotel has stalled, and that such amenities as water and electricity are . . . infrequent. But what their new life lacks in luxury, they come to find, it’s plentiful in adventure, stunning beauty, and unexpected love.

I think the best summation of this book is ‘eh’. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I’m not even 100% I liked it. I felt like it had the potential to be so much better. I think I liked 1 maybe 2 characters, the rest I felt I could have if they hadn’t’ve been so…themselves. The writing is at times cringeworthy, the characters are certainly racist and sexist, whether or not this is just their character “charm” as it is sometimes portrayed, but it’s gross to listen to. And India is turned into some mystical place that is romanticised by these white British while subsequently criticised by them on the next page. 

The book’s title has been changed to coincide with the movie, it was originally These Foolish Things, but I think most physical books are retitled now too.  Very rarely is this the case, but I have to say, the movie is so much better. Just watch that. This isn’t even really like it at all, it’s not overly enjoyable, there’s more parts that are offensive in some way or another, and there isn’t a grand plot to keep you interested. I listened to the audiobook and to her credit, the narrator was quite good, she used distinctive voices and emphasis as she told the story, and she brought to life each character’s individuality. It was just a shame that that what she brought to life wasn’t very enjoyable.

 

You can purchase The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Au

Booktopia | Wordery | Barnes & Noble

 

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Published: May 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
PanMacmillan Australia
Pages: 476
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

I could not get excited by this book. I couldn’t understand why Alice couldn’t just simply state things outright and ask people what she wanted to know. I get she may have been in shock and what have you, and her personality wasn’t the tough assertive one she develops, but she lets people just talk at her, or ignore her. It annoyed me so much she didn’t just shout out ‘what part of I remember nothing do you not understand?’ Even when she doesn’t tell anyone she never asks questions, just wonders what it all means, what she has to do. Even when she does outright ask who someone is or what is happening, people don’t just answer her. I can’t understand, why wouldn’t you tell someone the full details? It would make them look like less of a fool and not annoy me as much I assure you.

The whole premise is Alice is missing ten years of her life, and in that time she loses friends, makes new ones, and becomes a person with a new personality. It’s not good just telling her that she’ll understand when she gets her memory back, or that she won’t feel as confused, it doesn’t help her in the moment. Yes Moriarty is trying to create suspense, and make us realise that there is more than just memory loss at stake, but truly. It was so frustrating having to put up with so many non-answers and people somehow unable to comprehend what no memory means. Even Alice’s mother just prattles on at her, not even having a proper conversation. Ugh. Of course when we do find out even a tiny something of what happened it comes in a weird one scene rush and answers are given and it feels like a trick having this information just given to us after we’ve suffered so far unawares.

Anyway. I could complain about this book for ages and not say anything constructive. You do start to get a small hint that something isn’t as it seems around halfway through. You’ve accepted Alice is Alice, and all these characters are just being their own weird selves so you focus on the story. Moriarty draws out the suspense in that way, you are meant to hang on as Alice almost gets answers and then loses them, almost gets her memory back but fails.

The story takes place over a week or so since Alice’s accident but a lot happens in that time. You see how Alice’s family have changed and evolved, you see how personalities have shifted, friends aren’t as close anymore. I really liked Alice’s sister Elizabeth; her chapters are fun and interesting, filled with emotion and intrigue. I also didn’t mind Franny’s parts either; it was a nice change having her blog provide bits of info and a commentary on what’s going on. Having that alongside Elizabeth’s journal you get relief from Alice doing all her stuff. Those two characters make the novel worth reading in my opinion, them and perhaps Alice’s children, they were quite fun.

You can purchase What Alice Forgot via the following

QBD | Book Depository | Amazon

Wordery | Dymocks

Fishpond | Booktopia

 

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Published: 1st September 2005 (print)/28th September (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Little Brown and Company/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 310 pages/8 discs
Narrator: Julie Powell
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Trapped in a boring job and living in a tiny apartment in New York, Julie Powell regularly finds herself weeping on the way home from work. Then one night, through her mascara-smudged eyes, Julie notices that the few items she’s grabbed from the Korean grocery store are the very ingredients for Potage Parmentier, as described in Julia Childs’ legendary cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And The Project is born. Julie begins to cook – every one of the 524 recipes in the book, in the space of just one year. This is Julie’s story, as gradually, from oeufs en cocotte to bifstek sauté au beurre, from ‘Bitch Rice’ to preparing live lobsters, she realises that this deranged Project is changing her life. The richness of the thousands of sauces she slaves over is beginning to spread into her life, and she begins to find the joie de vivre that has been missing for too many years.

The complete title of this book is Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living which is a nice fun mouthful. I’ve also seen it more commonly be called Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. I chose to read this because I love reading the books movies are based on, and I enjoyed the movie so I thought I would give this a go, even if it was nonfiction. I have to say, the movie was, not better, I guess, but certainly more interesting.

The odd thing is I didn’t dislike this book, I liked the premise, it is told well. I listened to the audio book which was narrated by Julie Powell herself so that was good. The issue I had was that I wasn’t invested, nothing really happened. I had to keep reminding myself this was a nonfiction book based on a blog so that explains the lack of story, because life doesn’t have key moments planned out and an arc that propels you along. But Julie’s told her story well, there is a rise and fall of events, you follow her journey and are meant to celebrate with her and mourn her mistakes. And I did for the most part.

The problem was, I realised that I could tune out for a time and come back and not have missed anything, not be lost or need to rewind. There are a lot of detailed instructions about the cooking Julie does, understandably, and the lives of her friends and herself. Understandable as I say, it isn’t a memoir really, it’s a book based on a blog about cooking, there will be a lot of cooking mentioned. This is why I am confused. I didn’t dislike it, it just…was. Pleasant enough but it felt like it dragged on. Again, it’s nonfiction it is what it is, but towards the end I was losing interest in her journey.

I was intrigued by the parts about Julia Child. There aren’t many but it was interesting to have snippets of her life included, as a story and not as facts. It was a true side by side of their lives.

I actually watched the move afterwards and realised a lot of what was in the book had been included, save a few changes here and there. So that was nice, seeing it told in almost truth.

You can purchase Julie and Julia via the following

Booktopia | Wordery

Fishpond | A&R BookWorld

Amazon | Dymocks

Book Depository

Previous Older Entries