Tag: Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist

Cover image for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burtonby Jessie Burton

ISBN 978-0-06-235443-3

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“Adrift, she feels shipwrecked between the idea of her marriage and its actual state, and the cabinet, beautiful and useless, is a horrible reminder of it all.”

Eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman has recently been married to Johannes Brandt, a Dutch East India Company merchant twice her age. When she arrives in Amsterdam in the winter of 1686, she finds that she has joined a most unusual household, managed by Brandt’s spinster sister, Marin, and attended by an adopted orphan maid, and a freed African slave. As a wedding gift from her new husband, Nella receives an ornately carved cabinet house, a miniature model of her new home. With her husband often traveling for his work, Nella is left alone in this unusual household, and to pass the time she commissions a miniaturist to make some pieces for her cabinet house. But the artist far exceeds her requests, sending pieces that eerily echo the goings on in the Brandt household, and predicting troubling turns of events that threaten to expose the Brandts’ secrets to the prying eyes of Amsterdam society.

What comes across most vividly in The Miniaturist is the setting in seventeenth century Amsterdam, from the house on the Herengracht, to the Bourse, to the docks and warehouses of the Dutch East India Company. Debut novelist Jessie Burton captures both the atmosphere of the city, and the repressive air of the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, Burton visited the city in 2009 and the miniature house is a real artefact that can be found in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, while the protagonist’s name is borrowed from that house’s original owner. Burton’s prose is evocative, if occasionally overwrought, as when Nella is “weakened by the magnificence of Marin’s fury.” Despite the occasional overdone passage, the style is generally strong, although the choice of third person present tense narration was sometimes distracting.

While the historical detail of the setting was meticulous, Burton did not apply the same philosophy to her characters. Marin and Nella are posed as feminists in a manner that strengthens their characters, but weakens the historical veracity of The Miniaturist. The protagonist and her friends all had very modern attitudes towards a variety of issues that would not have been generally accepted in seventeenth century Amsterdam. One such discrepancy might pass under the radar, but three is asking the reader to suspend their knowledge of history a bit too much. As these events come to the fore, the mystery of the miniaturist falls into the background, never to be picked back up. The pace of the plot increases, but the thread of the story is lost.

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More historical fiction with an element of fantasy:

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Harper Collins Fall Fiction Preview

Things have been quiet here on Required Reading the last little while. Two weeks ago we moved to a new apartment, and then I spent this past weekend in Las Vegas attending the American Library Association’s annual conference. There were author signings, professional development events, and keynote speeches galore, but since I am a Harper Voyager Super Reader, I got up bright and early on Monday to check out the Harper Collins Book Buzz event, so that I could give you all a preview of what we have to look forward to from them this fall. Here are the highlights:

Cover image for Rooms by Lauren OliverRooms by Lauren Oliver. The best-selling author of the Delirium series is back with a ghost story recommended for fans of Alice Sebold, Audrey Niffenegger, and Neil Gaiman. Richard Walker has just died, leaving a large inheritance to his estranged family. But when his ex-wife and children come to claim their share, they find themselves in a house that is already occupied by two ghosts; Alice and Sandra. This sweet, sad, spooky ghost story has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and is due out September 23, 2014.

Cover image for Agatha Christie's The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah Agatha Christie’s The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah. For the first time ever, the Christie Estate has authorized a new Hercule Poirot mystery, which will be penned by poet and crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah. Poirot’s quiet dinner at a London coffeehouse is interrupted by a young woman who tells him she is about to be murdered, and implores him not to interfere so that justice will  be done. Soon after, not one, but three young women are murdered in fashionable London hotels. Look for this new Poirot tale in stores on September 9, 2014.

Cover image for Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne. This former e-book best-seller has been acquired and revamped by Harper Collins, and will be re-released as a paperback on September 23, 2014. Angel Killer is the first in a series of mysteries starring FBI agent Jessica Blackwood, whose unusual upbringing in a family of magicians makes her an invaluable asset when a murder seems to have no logical explanation. Author Andrew Mayne is a magician who has worked with Penn and Teller, and David Copperfield, and his father and brother are special agents.

Cover image for The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This mysterious debut novel is set in 17th century Amsterdam, where eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman has just married Dutch merchant Johannes Brandt. As a wedding gift, she receives a beautiful miniature model of her husband’s extravagant house, and his wealth enables her to engage the services of a famous but reclusive miniaturist to furnish the model. Soon, however, pieces Nella never commissioned begin to arrive, eerily echoing events in the full-sized house that the artist could not possibly know about. Recommended for fans of Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters, The Miniaturist is due out on August 26, 2014.

Cover image for Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix ChristieGutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie. Journalist and letterpress printer Alix Christie fictionalizes the birth of the printing press, chronicling the lives of Johann Gutenberg, his apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, and their financial backer, Johann Fust. Their efforts to create the first printed Bible will bring them head-to-head with the Catholic Church, threatening to tear their partnership asunder. This debut novel has already received a starred review from Kirkus, and will be available on September 23, 2014.

Cover image for Black Dog by Caitlin KittredgeBlack Dog by Caitlin Kittredge. First in a new dark Urban Fantasy series, Black Dog stars Ava, a hellhound who has spent a hundred years tracking down errant souls and dragging them back to Hell. But after a hundred years, Ava is getting tired of being used by the grim reaper she serves, and allows a human necromancer to persuade her to steal her reaper’s scythe. The theft unleashes the wrath of Lilith, a powerful demon who controls all the reapers. Suggested for fans of Richard Kadrey, Black Dog is out on October 28, 2014.

Of course, there are many more great titles coming out this fall from Harper Collins and other publishers. Check back next week to find out what else was hot at ALA!