Short Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton

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The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dutch Golden Age of shipbuilding, import and export, and exotic explorations, was a dark time for some. A young bride arrives into the bustling City of Amsterdam, to live with her new wealthy Merchant husband, but doesn’t get what she expected! Bored and alone she is gifted something that leads to one mystery after another. Is her future being told by a witch or is someone provoking her?
It’s not a warm, romantic type of book despite similarities in plot with classics from The Brontes and Austen. It was slow to start but it didn’t take long to be enthralled, not only by each complicated character but by all the subplots and entangled mysteries. It is a wonderfully dark story and has an air of magic realism that drew me in. At times I felt it was a little ‘purple’ but somehow this lended itself to the story.
I can’t say the characters were credible in terms of real-life everyday people, but they were complicated, layered and mysterious. They all had a contradictory side and a rich history. For me, it worked. Maybe that’s because the story itself dealt with real-life situations we might come across in our modern World. All of the characters were isolated from their society for one reason or another: each had a dark history at some level and the story brings them all together in one house. My favourite character was Marin. First seen as a purist who eats cold herrings for breakfast and doesn’t indulge herself with unGodly things like sugar, we later see the real Marin, and the reader cannot help but both have sympathy and admiration for her and her lost potential.

For a first novel, I think it’s right up there. I look forward to reading more from Jesse Burton.

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Book Review: The Penguin Lessons by Tom Mitchell

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The Penguin LessonsThe Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Mitchell recounts his true and bizarre meeting of an adorable Penguin while traveling in Central America in his twenties. He stumbled across the only one left alive on a shore of oil slicken Penguins in Uruguay and manages to bring him back to the flat where he is staying. There’s a strong bond from the start. Under the regime of Eva Perón with an imminent military coup, the penguin was smuggled through customs and into Argentina, back to the boarding school where Tom taught. Juan Salvador, the charming Penguin, manages to become the school mascot and everyone’s friend. He’s pampered and treasured by students and school staff alike.
The most enjoyable thing about this light hearted quirky tale is that it’s true. The formidable determination of Tom resulted in Juan Salvador living a very charmed life indeed! Here’s where the charm stops. There wasn’t enough story to go into such word count. It wasn’t a long story, and it wasn’t a profound story. I found myself flicking through three to four pages of a rugby match yawn-fest and then again with a scene where Tom and Juan meet the school’s housekeepers’s family. There were more than a few of these moments in the book. I think if they were shorter they could have been much funnier.
The book did include some interesting insight into the Argentinian society and political World of the seventies. The cover, the concept, and the cute little illustrations were as delightful as the tale itself but frankly, there were too many pages. Overall a light and entertaining story but I feel it lacked substance and had too many fillers.

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Supply & Demand

The car rolled up the gravel path. Wiping his hands in his leather apron, Dak sauntered over to the stove and put a pan of water on. He poured white spirits over his stained hands at the basin, and rubbed and old rag into the deep crevices.

‘Mornin Dak, a fine one it is too’

Dak nodded at him as he walked in to his usual spot at the back of the cave, out of the sun. He put a parcel and a letter on the desk and sat down.

‘There’s a few more orders for ya today. These things are gettin quite popular with folk, ya know’

Dak brought the tea to the table and sat down opposite to Jo. He didn’t look up as he poured the tea.

‘I’m running out of stock’

Jo tilted his head upward and took a deep breath in.

‘Well, ya know, supply and demand, and all that. There’s three more orders today, and that makes seven orders outstanding, isn’t it?’

Dak nodded.

‘I want you to know that I never kill any living creature to make these pieces. I respect the life that lived in every skull and every bone I find on this land’

Jo cleared his throat.

‘Oh sure, but- supply and demand Dak. There’s money to be made here and –

He snorted and omitted a jarring laugh that made Dak grimace. It faded once he realised he was the only one amused. He slurped his tea and put it down, looking sideways in thought before starting to talk again.

‘See, these rich folk don’t know what to be doing with their money Dak. It’s the new in- thing, if ya hear me. They want them on their mantles, they want to gift them to their friends on their birthdays, you know? They want them’

Dak stared passed Jo’s head at the wall behind him. He continued.

‘The mayor’s wife was looking for a nice big one. She’ll pay big bucks’

‘Big bucks: Big skull?’

‘Exactly’, Jo guffawed

’How big? As big as her husbands fat belly?’

‘Aw come on now Dak. I’m givin you an opportunity to make some money here! And you know, I earn a pittance with the National Post. Jenny’s wedding is coming up. It’s not easy to reach the level of affair she’s aspirin to’

Dak got up from the table and walked to his bench.

‘I’ll see what I can do. I’ll finish these two by tomorrow, and I’ll have a scout around today. It’s not the right season for roadkill or hawk prey, but I’ll look.

Jo stood up and wriggled his National Postal cap back on his fat head.

‘What about catching a few rabbits in a snare, Dak? Or even a deer for the mayor’s wife?’

Dak turned and walked towards Jo quickly. He stopped abruptly when their noses almost touched.

‘What did I just say?’

He walked back to his bench and stared at the wall until Jo walked out of the cave, past him and down the path to the van. That night Dak dreamed of the Stag. He had met him several times when running in the forest as a child. Each time, the stag had stopped in his tracks and stared into his eyes, penetrating him with an intense love that he’d never experienced again.

The following morning, he lay in bed and watched the sun slide further into the front of his cave before he jumped up and set to work. It didn’t take long as he’d seen his father do it time after time. As he raised the net and tested the ropes, he recalled the morning he had stood with the village looking up into the trees, watching the stag struggling hysterically in the net. A dart pierced his neck. Even once he had given up the stag kept his gaze until the life drained out of him.

Later, Dak stood at his bench and prepared his paints. A tiny skull of a bird sat in a delicate clamp in front of him. He heard the crackling stones under the tyres of the postal van. The van door shut loudly and Dak jumped. A few steps crunched on the gravel before he heard a howl.

‘Dak, what the fuck is this? Get me down right now you fucking weirdo’

Dak’s smile slowly widened.

‘Dak? Dak are you there? Oh come on!!!

A nice big skull.

He turned. There stood the Stag, staring into Dak’s eyes.

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Book Review: Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in 1948, both Hortense and Gilbert’s desire for living the dream in the ‘mother Country’ land them together in their struggle to make their way in a new World. This World is not the one they thought it was and it takes time to make sense of it all. Their lives intertwine with an English couple who are also stumbling blindly through the war and the aftermath, reassessing their own moral compasses
This is, quite frankly, the best novel I’ve read in some time. Insightful and full of revelations, Levy teaches us a lessons in misconceptions of identity. Along with learning some valuable British and Jamaican history, I rejoiced in such well written characters and was immersed in the evoking plot from start to finish.
Structurally, the novel was not ordered in a traditional way. Each chapter represented the perspective of one character. They were not divided equally nor in chronological order. No, they were strategically ordered in a way to reveal each characters past and how it effected their present circumstances.
I miss this book and would love to read about these characters further on in their lives.

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