The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Book Description:

Published: August 26, 2014

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam–a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion–a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .”

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 world 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’ gift helps Nella to 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?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

Review-

“Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, begins like many a Gothic mystery before it: An 18-year-old virgin arrives in a strange place, on the doorstep of a great house where she has been invited but does not feel welcomed.

However, the time is not the 19th century, and the place is not a British lord’s brooding manor on the moor. Instead, it’s the autumn of 1686 in Amsterdam, a city then in its Golden Age and a powerful center of world trade.

The Miniaturist is set in much the same world as Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling Girl With a Pearl Earring, a story placed two decades earlier in another 17th-century Dutch city, Delft. But Johannes Brandt, the man at the center of The Miniaturist, is even more of a mystery than the Johannes Vermeer of Chevalier’s story.

When The Miniaturist begins, no Gothic courtship awaits us, for Johannes already has legally married Petronella “Nella” Oortman, a girl from an ancient but impoverished family in another town. Johannes is 20 years Nella’s senior, “a true Methuselah” in her opinion. Still, he’s a wealthy merchant in Amsterdam, a supremely eligible bachelor and even reasonably handsome, making him quite the catch in a world where marriage is the only real option for a Dutch girl of good family.

So the marriage is accomplished, but it has yet to be consummated. Nella arrives in Amsterdam on the Brandts’ second-best barge, alone but for her beloved pet, a little green bird in a cage. The Brandts’ nine-room house, on the prestigious Herengracht canal, contains no husband to greet Nella. Instead, she is met by her haughty sister-in-law, Marin, a saucy maidservant named Cornelia and Johannes’ manservant, Otto — he is a former slave and the first African Nella has ever seen.

When Johannes finally appears, he is kind to Nella, telling her that she has nothing to fear from him. But he’s in no noticeable hurry to bed his young bride. He is an important man, a shrewd, bold merchant sailor whose business might as well be his mistress. In this, Johannes seems not so different from other Amsterdammers, devout Protestants who preach humility but prize wealth and consider business the lifeblood of the city. It’s a place where Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel would fit right in.

Johannes’ wedding gift to Nella is a huge cabinet containing a sort of dollhouse, an amazing miniature version of their own house. “The accuracy of the cabinet is eerie, as if the real house has been shrunk, its body sliced in two and its organs revealed,” Burton writes. Marin is horrified that her brother has spent 3,000 guilders on it; Nella, while touched by Johannes’ generosity, is perplexed.

Back in her hometown, “Nella had known children who’d been given cabinet houses, but none so grand as this. … Her heart sinks. I am too old for this, she thinks.” The cabinet house, meant for a child to practice housekeeping, “is a monument to her powerlessness, her arrested womanhood. It’s your house, her husband had said, but who can live in tiny rooms, these nine dead ends? What sort of man buys a gift like this, however majestic its casing, however beautifully made?”

Johannes is never cruel, but Nella “wants love,” as her mother used to say mockingly. “She wants the peaches and the cream.” Lacking the lagniappe of romance, Nella becomes obsessed with her cabinet house, ordering tiny accessories and furnishings from the only miniaturist in Amsterdam. Though this mysterious craftsman avoids meeting her, Nella is both enchanted and mystified by the exquisitely worked objects that arrive in each delivery from the miniaturist.

Who is the Kalverstraat artisan who knows every secret of the Brandt household? More importantly, how will those secrets be exposed? For when they are, they tear the Brandts’ lives apart as surely as if the Zuiderzee had once again rushed in and flooded their world.

In The Miniaturist, Burton uses a historical object — the real Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum — as the springboard for a fantastically spun tale of love and mystery. It’s a story that astutely reflects our own age’s obsessions and prejudices, and it’s one not to be missed.” dallas news.com

A wonderfully enjoyable story!

 

 

 

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Description:

Published: November 8, 2016

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Review –

Heartless is a prequel to Lewis Carroll’s 1863 classic Alice in Wonderland, being the history of one of the most recognizable characters in fiction; The Queen of Hearts. Set in the kingdom of Hearts, a world of talking animals, animate furniture and occasional bouts of unpredictable magic, the story follows Lady Catherine Pinkerton, the seventeen year old daughter of the Marquess of Rockturtle Cove.

Cath begins the book as sweet, naïve and rather overly sheltered, not to mention very much under her parent’s’ thumb (one reason for my lady’s initial exasperation), however seeing her change, grow and evolve through circumstances is truly a pleasure. Meyer seems to have a gift for character depiction since this is a book where even the minor players turn out to be more than they appear, and as for Catherine rarely have I seen an author write character development in such a pure sense, i.e. taking a character from one place at the start of the book, and showing how they journey to a very different place at the end of it.

I liked how the King of Hearts, despite being cast almost immediately in the role of an unwanted potential husband is neither sadistic nor lecherous. He is simply good natured, foolish, ineffective and not overly endowed in the brain department. While this makes him of course completely out of the question as a match for Catherine, it also makes her position a more unique one than a lot of characters facing forced marriages in modern fiction, since it’s one thing to wish to avoid a vile suitor at all costs, quite another to have to reject an innocent but dim-witted one.

The  character I did feel slightly short-changed by was Jest, the court joker and very obvious love interest. Dashing, clever, accomplished at everything from magic tricks to music and of course hopelessly smitten with Catherine (he even has golden eyes). While Meyer does undoubtedly reveal enough hidden truths about Jest to make him play an interesting part in the plot, I did feel that he was a bit too idealised. 

The final conclusion is a very apt end to the story, employing prophecy, destiny and character revelations. If you know the story of the Queen of Hearts then you know that this story will not end well, BUT you keeping hoping …

Despite its at times slow pace and its rather too obvious Joker I did very much enjoy Heartless. Take a large serving of Lewis Carroll, add a table-spoon of Jane Austin, season with a bit of Gaiman like twisted fairy tales and a likable, if rather sheltered protagonist and you have something sweet, fluffy and delicious on the outside, but with a dark, and troubled centre within.

Loved it!

 

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen

Book Description:

Published: November 8, 2011

Format: Audio

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

Review –

A single tragic event shapes four generations of American women in this heart-wrenching debut and had me screaming in my mind for the sisters to have a “do-over”. 

What is meant to be an escape from an evil step-father by Mabel and Wallace, Bertie misconstrues as the betrayal of a lifetime. There is so much miscommunication in this story that I was breathless sometimes for a minute or more waiting to hear what unnecessary dreadful event would befall the sisters. 

I won’t say what happens but suffice it to say that ending is devastating  and left me sad and shaken .

Lesson: Talk your problems out to the people closest to you or you could lose them forever.

Excellent read !

 

Year One (Chronicles of The One #1) by Nora Roberts

Book Description:

Published: December 5, 2017

Format: Audio/Audible

It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed–and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river–or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.

Review –

When I started listening to this book, I knew immediately that I was going to love it, and therefore would have to not rush the experience. By that I mean, I don’t “binge-listen” hour after hour, but take it slow and make it last. I even set it aside for a week here and there to make it last longer.

This is unlike anything that Nora Roberts has ever written and she hit it out of the ball park!

“When the world as they know it ends, the survivors of a mysterious plague are faced with a new world in which both dark and light magic are rising.

“When Ross MacLeod pulled the trigger and brought down the pheasant, he had no way of knowing he’d killed himself. And billions of others.” So begins the latest novel from publishing juggernaut Roberts, and the rest of the book is just as gripping. When a virus takes out nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s human population, the survivors must figure out how to live in their new world, which includes the appearance of a varied set of magical abilities in a large part of the surviving population. Both the magick and un-magick people have violent factions which are trying to vanquish internal and external enemies, and good people from both groups have to band together in order to stay safe and establish a new order that honors life and decency. In one such community, witches Lana and Max are having a child, and from the moment of conception, it’s obvious that the child will be magical. As her pregnancy advances, Lana begins to suspect that even in the context of the new magical paradigm, her child has a special destiny, an impression that becomes clearer when she realizes she and her unborn child are being hunted. Finding sanctuary on a remote farm, Lana ushers the child into the world, and soon both foes and allies begin to arrive at her doorstep, deepening Lana’s belief that her daughter is meant for something great and dangerous. Roberts’ new direction is electric and ground-breaking. In some ways, it’s a synthesis of her past work: she’s often written about magical elements, family—both biological and emotional—and community. In this series launch, she’s created a believable apocalypse that is obviously leading to a grand showdown between good and evil, but the story and the characters—there are many, and she’s made some choices that are going to stun her die-hard romance fans—navigate timely issues of tolerance and bigotry; fear of the Other; violence on behalf of perceived “purity” and misdirected religious zeal; and how good people combat evil.

A fast-paced, mesmerizing, and thought-provoking novel that will no doubt add to Roberts’ legions of fans.”

KIRKUS Reviews

Five stars!!!

grab a warm cup of Theraflu, snuggle up with a copy of Year One and pray you’re one of the lucky survivors.

 

Ron Charles of the Washington Post

Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Book Description:

Published: January 15, 2016

Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna’s new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can’t know.

Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.

Review –

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This was the most depressing book that I think I have ever read or listened to but it is also very haunting.

In the “tell me again times”, Anna’s mom tells her the story of how she was alone and had always wanted a daughter. But Anna slowly learns the truth, having a daughter is not enough to fill the void inside her mother. So she watches as her mother marries, divorces, marries, divorces, and then spends a great deal of time dating man after man and leaving Anna in the house alone.
Anna often spends night after night alone in the lying house. It looks beautiful, but it is empty. She turns on the TV to fill it with noise. She wanders from room to room. And when nothing she can do fills that emptiness, she begins to try to fill it with boys in much the same way she sees her mother trying to fill her own emptiness with men.

Anna’s story is a series of relationships, very few of them real or fulfilling:
Her mother – absent, distant, unaware
The first boy – a boy who assaults her on the school bus, although she doesn’t realize at the time what it is.
Joey – For a while, he fills the void. But then just as her mother told her all men do, he leaves.
The rapist – he haunts her.
Toy – the best friend, lost herself, but Anna doesn’t recognize this until much later.
Josh – For a while, he too fills the void.
And then Sam – here she sees for the first time what a real family must look like, and it creates in her a longing so real, so palpable that the world around her shifts.

By the time Sam comes along Anna has gotten pregnant and had an abortion but he is a virgin and wants to WAIT for their first time together.  They do wait-for awhile but the temptation is too great and they have sex, whenever and where ever they can. One afternoon Anna goes over to Sam’s house because he is sick and one thing leads to another and they have sex and his mother walks in on them and tells her to leave.  

It’s during this time of depression and loneliness that Anna discovers that Toy is as broken as she is and has been lying about all her romantic boyfriends (none of whom exist). Anna  has been trying  fill the emptiness inside of her with boy after boy after boy until she sees something else and decides she is going to find a way to make it happen for herself, and it’s  important because Anna realizes this for herself and acts upon it for herself.

The book ends with Anna feeling hopeful and that’s something she has never felt before.

Very thought-provoking.

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Memory Man (Amos Decker #1) by David Baldacci

Book Description:

Published; April 21, 2015

Amos Decker’s life changed forever–twice.

The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect–he can never forget anything.

The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare–his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.

His family destroyed, their killer’s identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.

But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Memory Man will stay with you long after the turn of the final page.

Review –

This is a fantastic book and had me hooked from the very beginning.

What if you couldn’t forget ANYTHING?  Sounds like an okay deal for all the good memories but what about the bad, sad and horrible memories, you don’t forget those either. They are with you 24/7. That’s what plagues Amos Decker and sometimes he handles it well and other times he doesn’t.

I will definitely read the next book in the Amos Decker Series whenever it comes out because even though he has let himself go, gained weight, is horribly out of shape, you can’t  help  but fall in love with his character and I can’t wait to see what the author has in store for  him.

Excellent read!

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Lead Me Not (Twisted Love #1) by A. Meredith Walters

Book Description:

Published: August 5, 2014

In this dangerously sexy novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Find You in the Dark, a straight-laced college student meets a handsome but enigmatic stranger who lures her into an underground club scene, where she finds it difficult to resist temptation

Aubrey Duncan understands loss. She knows what rock bottom looks like, and she is determined to crawl back up to the top after the sudden death of her younger sister. She blames herself for her part in the tragedy, convinced that she could have done something, anything, to help her.

In her effort to gain redemption, Aubrey starts fresh at Longwood University and facilitates an addiction support group, hoping she can support someone else in the way she failed her sister. But what she doesn’t count on is an all-consuming fascination with group member Maxx Demelo, a gorgeous, blond, blue-eyed enigma who hides dark secrets behind a carefully constructed mask. He only reveals what he wants others to see. But Aubrey glimpses another Maxx hidden below the surface—a Maxx who is drowning in his own personal hell.

As Aubrey and Maxx develop an attraction too intense to ignore, he pulls her into the dark underbelly of the city club scene, where she is torn by her desire to save him and an inexplicable urge to join him in his downward spiral. Worst of all, she is beginning to love everything she should run away from—a man who threatens to ignite in her a fire that could burn her alive…

Review –

I was very conflicted with this story line because I wanted Aubrey and Maxx to work out as a couple even though Aubrey is  a tortured soul and  Maxx on the other hand is a lost soul,only he can’t see it-they are no good together.

Maxx is a bad boy in every sense of the word and Aubrey is drawn to that(most girls are) and when she discovers his addiction to drugs she throws her job protocol out the window and feels she can “love” him into coming clean. On the surface Maxx admits to having a problem but deep down he’s in denial so he just pulls Aubrey down with him. She finally tells him to get help or else and at the end of the story he admits to a doctor that indeed he may need some outside help. 

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the Twisted Love series.

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Dragonfly In Amber (Outlander #2) By Diana Gabaldon

Book Description:

Published: November 2, 1993

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves….

Review –

Five stars *****. That about says it all.

As I listened to this, the second book in the Outlander Series, I found myself often holding my breath as I traveled along with Claire and Jamie on their adventures and misfortunes in England, France and Scotland. I laughed and cried and at the end I was left with my mouth agape and a feeling of awe and wonder filling me.

Excellent series.

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