The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Musing Monday

alberta's book reviews

When I thought of today I was going to write about a book I was reading, however, I stayed up so late I finished  it so it will be a book I have just finished reading. I must stop doing that, I have such problems waking up and functioning next day if I read until 2-3 in the a.m:(

we have all been there though I am sure, when leaving a book just to sleep seems to be impossible.  Far too often in my life have I done this:)

The Miniaturist

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift; a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household, she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

 

Lovely book.

I had had a mixed bag of good, okay’ish and ‘don’t like that much’ books lately. Many of them for the book groups I belong to. None were awful, a couple were disappointing and some I think were just me, or the mood I was in..

So it was with trepidation I approached The Miniaturist, another book group read. Weary from the long reads of Wool by Hugh Howey 500 pages and Citadel by Kate Mosse 1000 pages, I groaned as I reached for it, 400 pages – not so bad:) . It accompanied me to the garage to find out what bad news they would give on the car. It was bad, bad, bad, but the trepidation about the book, the shock of the estimated bill were not enough to dim this book. What a delight it was from beginning to end. A book where the loss is felt after the pages close, when another book is impossible for a day or two.

17th century Amsterdam. A city built on reclaimed land and trade from every corner of the globe. A naive young bride, a rich merchant husband who is reluctant to consummate the marriage, his sour sister, a Negro man servant and a outspoken maid. Living unconventional lives within a conventional and hypocritical society of fabulously wealthy elite and a thundering Calvinistic religion.

And of course a doll’s house.

I discovered after I had finished it that this is a Marmite* book. Rave reviews or scorn. Nothing, it appears, in the middle. For me, the story flowed along beautifully, like an old river. Each character so different, the claustrophobic feel of a society of long ago was, for me, interesting. The unseen but ever present miniaturist is the creepy part. Is she friend or foe, how does she know so much of this fairly closed household, how does she know the secret lives. Is she an insider that she knows so much or . . .or. . . is this a delicious bit of magic realism?

It is a story with some endings predictable and others left hanging. A book to weep over and to wonder at after the event. For a debut novel it was impressive.

  • Marmite for those who do not know is a dark brown yeast and salt based food paste with a advertising slogan ‘Love it or Hate it’ and is now used generally as a metaphor for polarized positions on any subject

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

Musing Mondays | BooksAndABeat.com

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Approximately how many books do you usually read per week? Per month?

How many a week, a month. It is so dependant on how much time, how much work, how many social commitments or appointments. On my mood, health, family’s mood and health. Is the sun shining, is it pouring with rain or blowing a gale . Some weeks I read book after book then I may go for a week without picking one up.
I can report that my Goodreads challenges for the past few years come in at

2012 = 64 books

2013  =  120 books

2015 =  106 books

2016 so far = 23 books

I don’t remember why 2014 is missing I would have read but I was in the middle of a great depression so maybe didn’t register on the book challenge. 2012 I was ill most of the year with massive migraine type headaches which had to operated on, so reading was difficult.

I used to read a lot more when I was young and cutting edge – late night sessions didn’t bother me so much – massive books were easier to hold before wrists gave out and I spent a lot of time on public transport so reading times were extended:)

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Two Books which will stay with me.

 

lifetime passionI have read two extraordinarily debut novels this Christmas. You know the kind – they make one wonder why anyone would bother trying to write!:(

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey and The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Both explore with compassionate and delicate understanding the disintegration of minds. Both deal with past memories, loss and grief. However there could not be such disparate characters; the first deals with dementia and the second with schizophrenia. Elizabeth is Missing has an 82 year old woman as a very unreliable narrator and in The Shock of the Fall the narrator is a young man.

Both protagonists are trying to negotiate the alien world that their mental illness has created. How they achieve this and manage a reasonable outcome for themselves is told through muddle, confusion, anger, depression, frustration, medication and a darkish sense of humour which bubbles through. Leavening what could be beyond bearing.

Elizabeth Is Missing

In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, who she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth? (Goodreads)

Maud struggles to remember the everyday, lives by the uncertain aid of written notes which spill from pockets and bags. They are out of order and so is she. The fixation which drives her to seek answers and drives her daughter, her carer, Elizabeth’s brother and the police to distraction is the idea that her friend is missing, she will brook no denial. But in the way of things although the present is a jigsaw of mainly missing pieces her memory of childhood is sharp, clear, full of distinct detail and troubled.

The Shock of the FallI’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’                                                                                  
    There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.  (Goodreads)

Whereas I know quite a bit about dementia and associated complaints; have helped and assisted various elderly relative and friends in my life time; I know nothing at all about schizophrenia but Nathan Filer sounds authentic and he has been a mental health nurse. I found the account as believable as I did the account of Maud’s mental decline.

Mathew’s narration wanders, backtracks and  although is sometimes vague it is mostly sharp and observant. He is plagued, also, by a childhood memory, when his brother died. We know about this within the first few pages,he also sees and converses with his brother. Matthew is sometimes controlled by his drugs or deliberately refusing to take medication. He writes his account in various places and in different mental states.

Neither subject is what one immediately thinks of as a ‘good read’ however I would recommend both of these as such. Both books will remain with me for a long time.

I hope to read more of both authors in the future.

The adventure is the unknown

A new year of reading challenges beckons:) too many and, really, some years do I have enough time? If I was sensible I would pick just the one challenge, say the Goodreads challenge, and pick a reasonable number of books to read in a year, say 52 books. One a week is do-able even if stuff happens.

I am not sensible.

Not when it comes to reading.

I suffer delusions of ‘I control my Life’.

So how did I go with the 2014 challenges? I managed 90 books that I recorded, I have a feeling I missed a couple but last January was so long ago. The books I read can be found on Goodreads, see sidebar button of congratulations.

Going through the books I have roughly sorted them and it is clear it wasn’t a year totally of escapism.

Of course it wasn’t.

What did I expect?

  I was re-jigging home and garden, trying to get my novel on track and endeavoring to improve my health. Last year  was very much about research and non- fiction took nearly half the total up. If Urban fantasy is added to fantasy, magic realism and the books with animals as narrators I was escaping the stash clearances! I did meet the challenge for books about animals or with animal in the title but most of them were also about research  although  fiction. Fiction did take top place though, but only just. Maybe this year will be less research driven and more relaxed:) I haven’t broken it down any further such as re-reads, ebooks and the like.  I will try and do better this year.

TBR pile                   = 57
Non Fiction             = 42
Fiction                      = 48
Animals                    = 10
Urban Fantasy        = 2
Magic realism          = 7
Fantasy                     = 7
Authors new to me = 42 (22 Non fiction writers and 20 fiction writers)

That last was a resounding success. I love to read authors I have not come across before.

Exciting and full of anticipation.

A new gem.

The possibility of another favourite.

It is easy to read the comfort food, but the adventure is traveling to the unknown. It pleases me that I can still venture. Maybe my traveling days in reality have been buried under aging heart muscles and inflamed joints – creeping old age can be a nuisance – maybe trains and planes no longer beguile

but . . .

this old woman still loves a challenge.

Will I be sensible this year?

Nah!

Not where books are concerned.

2013 reading challenges round up: alberta ross

So how did I do with my 2013 Reading Challenges?

I read a staggering 122 books in 2013, I think probably the most I have read, the numbers were boosted quite a bit by the children and YA novels I read or re-read for my A-Z challenge, they are of course much easier reads, and some very short. I read books in various genres, and enjoyed a good 95% of them. Which I count as a huge bonus in life.

There are too many to post here so if you wish to view them here’s the link to my Goodread challenge.

I have divided my reads into challenges and genre here

Goodreads: 122

of these the following

TBR: 63

New Authors: 84

Dystopian: 7

Telling Tales: 18 (fairy/myth)

Chunky: 9 (450+ pages)

Tea and Books 5 (650+ pages)

E-books: 12

What’s in a Name:Didn’t quite fulfill this one:(

Keyword:Nor this one:(

Indie: not sure as I find it difficult to work out who is Indie and who isn’t)  but I am sure I read quite a few. I have joined an Indie author group on Goodreads sothis year I will be able to keep a better track of this category.

I didn’t find a challenge last year for Non Fiction, YA,Fantasy etc. as such, but I have separated them out and discovered I read

Non Fiction: 26

YA: 13

Fantasy: 19

Rereads: 14

Historical Fiction: 7

I obviously have a yen for non fiction and fantasy/mythology – a strange mixture:) I really enjoy reading new authors, living always in the hope of finding new ones who can keep them coming for me. I ran out of many of my favorites decades ago:(

I have been dismal at commenting on all these books and will have to do better in 2014. I have a few more drafted from the list which I will post during the next couple of weeks,

Now for this year’s challenge and the huge tottering pile waiting for me.

Books, books and more books:alberta’s 2013 challenges

senior hands on a bible

As I say reading challenges tempt me and I do little to resist. This year I have gone overboard and collected a wonderful list.  At first glance one could be excused for saying – madness! – she has her writing to do – her life to live. Where could she possible find time to read so many books?  Well, of course I might not find time – this past year wasn’t a great success, but I am boxing clever with this list.

 I decided last year to

a) To support my fellow Indie writers

b) Read genres I don’t normal read

c) Become much better acquainted with fantasy

 So the Indie, e-book, new authors, self published challenges cover both a) and b)

 Fantasy speaks for itself –and as many of the fantasy books are long sagas and plenty are written by Indie authors they are also covered byThe Tea and Books challenge (650+)  the Chunkster challenge (450+) and the Indie challenge

 The Mount TBR challenge will cover some of the Tea and Books, Chunksters and certainly covers most of the Find a New Author challenge

 Telling Tales being about fairy tales and myths will deal with fantasy and a couple of the TBR challenge also.  Dystopian will wander in and out of most of the challenges:)

 Goodreads will cover all the books in all the challenges, plus the 24 books lined up in the 2 reading groups I belong to in the real world! Yes I do sometimes visit the real world:)

 I hesitated at the Keyword and What’s in a Name challenges and had to go through my intended reads quite carefully to see how close I could get now to the requirements – there are only a couple of months missing so they are covered as well.  After all it mustn’t be a done deal otherwise how could I get out and buy new books?

 My challenges for 2013 are as follows

The Goodreads 52 books in 52 weeks (I managed 60+ this year)

Mount TBR challenge (Pikes Peak 12)

What’s in a Name (6 books)

Go Indie (Tentative=5 )

Monthly Keyword (12)

e-book (CD 10 )

Self published ( sentence 5)

Dystopian (Asocial 5 books)

Telling Tales (Princess = 10)

Tea and Books (Berry Tea =4)

New Author, new to me (15)

                Chunkster   (Mor-book-ly Obese 8)

I couldn’t find myself a non-fiction challenge I could really get into as they all wanted to confine in some way. Most of my non- fiction at the moment is concerned with research and isn’t able to fit easily into catogories – I will though keep a note of the books written and see how many I manage in the year.

 This ought to be do-able if naught goes wrong:( you see how optimism wins out over sense in my mind:)