Tag Archives: art

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist is one of those widely acclaimed debut novels that seems to follow you around, even before you’ve read it you see the cover in bus stops, catch the title in magazines and catch the name standing out in strangers conversations. But is there anything more to the hype than a clever marketing campaign?

At first glance, the story has all the elements of a Gothic pastiche: a young bride turns up at her new husband’s house and finds herself at the mercy of his cold, maiden sister with a servant who openly treats her in a disrespectful way. Alone and isolated (in a room bedecked with grizzly artwork depicting meat and game birds no less), she is insulted when her husband buys her a child’s dollhouse to occupy her but soon finds that there is more to this than meets the eye. In itself, not massively compelling.

To reduce the story to this rough plot overview though, would be to do the novel and the author a massive disservice. I think that part of Jessie Burton’s talent is that she sets up the reader’s expectations for a particular kind of plot then through subtle misdirection surprises the reader with the course of events that follows, keeping you only half a step ahead of Nella as she encounters the wonders and horrors of her new life in Amsterdam and making her one of the most credible naïve brides in literature.

The history of 17th century Amsterdam been well researched and certainly well rendered, and the setting is a masterstroke for anyone who thinks of Amsterdam as a shorthand for liberalism and tolerance. While the miniaturist remains shadowy, the city comes to the fore as a contradictory, cruelly capricious character – the home to a society simultaneously obsessed with trade and piety, where neighbour watches neighbour to exert a pervasive social control, a fearful puppet master in its own right.

Though the novel isn’t perfect, it is very, very good and like all good novels it leaves you with questions. Why does the miniaturist come to the church in the first chapter? Why did they want to leave the miniature-miniature there? And most of all, what has compelled such an astute student of human behaviour to hold a mirror up to their subjects lives when the emotional repercussions of their art seem to shake them too?

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City Ransom RiggsRetaining the high production values of the first book in the series, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs is a stylish follow-up to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Following on where the first book left off, it sees Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends running for their lives from the wights and hollowgasts that are pursuing them. Their fight for survival becomes a race against time when they realise that their injured headmistress, an ymbryne trapped in bird form, is at risk of losing her humanity for ever unless they can find another ymbryne to save her within two days.

Though it retains the style and charm of the first book in the series, there were times when I became a little frustrated with aspects of the characterisation. Many of the peculiar children have been living the same day since the Second World War, which would easily make them in their 70s, but their emotional responses to many of the situations in the book make them seem like ordinary children. I can appreciate that a lot of the tension derives from this, but at times I felt the children’s emotional vulnerability was played on a little too much. Even if you have grown up in an incredibly sheltered manner, surely you have to some extent grown up?

Either way, it’s a minor criticism and the book should be praised for its originality and flair. There are some brilliant moments where minor characters in the plot of the story like Olive’s friend Jessica, or Sam and Elsa, steal the scene completely. The idea of time travelling within the loops is a great one as well, and the examples of people aging forward are horrible and highly effective. I only wish there’d been a little time to explore the landscapes that the characters travelled to within the loops in a little more detail, as this was a real strength of the first title in the series.

I’ve no idea when the third book is due, but I’m really looking forward to it. I only hope I get to read it before the rumoured Tim Burton film adaptation comes out.

With enough tea…

… maybe I could rule the world…hmmm.

I’m currently suffering with a kidney infection (massively ouch) so am browsing for presents to reward myself with if I make it to the end of January and I came across this:

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It sums me up entirely. I run on tea. I should order it to put on my desk at work.
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Life in a Fairytale House

In case you haven’t seen it doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites, you should definitely check out Being Somewhere, the website of Simon Dale who built a fairytale house (which they call the Hobbit house) for his family in Wales for around £3,000. Simon believes in building “simple shelters that are in harmony with the natural landscape, ecologically sound and are a pleasure to live in.” I think everyone will agree that it looks incredible.

Image courtesy of http://simondale.net/hobbit.htm under the Creative Commons license.

This man is my current hero. I’m having enough trouble to get my boyfriend to agree to me putting in a small wildflower/meadow lawn in our back garden, let alone getting him to build me a Bilbo Baggins’ burrow in the woods…

New Year Stationery

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery -The Little Prince

I don’t know if it’s some vestige of the back-to-school routine that I used to have, but I love the stationery that you get to use in the New Year. My favourites this year are The Little Prince Moleskine Diary that my boyfriend got me for my birthday (it came with these gorgeous bookmarks-bonus!) and the Paperchase list book that my older sister bought me for Christmas.

The Little Prince Moleskine Diary

The Little Prince Moleskine Diary

list book interior

Paperchase List Book

Both have already come in super handy, I’m back in work now and scribbling down meetings in my diary allows me to remember what I’ve agreed to (!) and the list book has come in really handy for working on the Apartment Therapy January Cure… I filled five of the A5 lined pages on day one!

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Little Prince Moleskine Diary Interior

My Top 5 Bookish Tumblrs

031020103131.jpgThere are so many inspiring book blogs out there, but I find that the Tumblr pages tend to get a little overlooked compared to their wordy companions. Here are my five favourite book related tumblr pages which I like to check for smiles and inspiration.

1. Bookshelf Porn

Bookshelf Porn is not such an overlooked tumblr since anyone who is into books or interior design will be familiar with their page, if not through tumblr itself then through the multitude of shares on Facebook, pinterest, etc. The most famous and the best for a very good reason.

2. Epigraphic

I am a bit of an epigraph obsessive, I really appreciate a well-chosen one but found during my A-levels that others don’t find them as interesting (the epigraph in question was the Sufi proverb in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale). I was delighted to come across Epigraphic a really cool tumblr page which collects pictures or quotations of epigraphs from a wide variety of books. I’ve even added a few books to my to read list as a result of their epigraphs being shown on this page.

3. The Art Of Google Books

The Art of Google Books was a recent find after I read a piece about it on the New Yorker. Collecting scanning errors and quirks that have occurred during the mass appropriation of content for the Google Books programme, it also includes marginalia, tea stains and other evidence of previous readers which will be lost if books go entirely digital.

4. Pretty Books

Pretty Books is edited by an individual and I think it’s all the nicer for it, as you really get a sense of Stacey’s individual tastes and style from the consistently gorgeous images she selects. I envy her aesthetic flair.

5. Ideal Bookshelf

I came across Ideal Bookshelf through Bookshelf Porn which just goes to show the lovely stuff you can find while reading other people’s blogs. The artist creates portraits of people which show them as the books that have shaped their lives and personality, rather than the nose and eyes that genetics have assigned them. I think it’s a lovely idea and am so tempted to get my own.

 

Gifts for Sherlock Holmes Fans

Other than reading, one of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to curl up on the sofa watching re-runs of old Sherlock Holmes films and adaptations. You’d be surprised how many you can find and in the past my father and I have managed to fill at least three days of viewings with Sherlock Holmes re-runs, much to the consternation of my little sister. I’ve even managed to hook my boyfriend on the stories to the point that we now have quarrels about which of us is Holmes and which of us is Watson. I am clearly Holmes, as you’ll be able to see from the following exchange:

Me: Elementary, Watson.

Boyfriend: You’re Watson, I’m Shakespeare.

Anyway, I digress. If you have a Holmes fan in your life, or want to introduce a loved one to the Sherlock Holmes stories, the following are great gift ideas:

I am a huge fan of the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. They look amazing and if, like me, the reader in your life is constantly berating themselves for having failed to read a particular classic, they’re a great gift. Even if you’re buying for someone whose favourite book is The Hound of The Baskervilles and has read it a thousand times, they’re sure to love this beautiful edition which will be cherished by Holmes veterans and Sherlock newcomers.

 

 

 

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iconIn the unlikely event that, like myself and my boyfriend, you and your loved ones are arguing over which of you is Watson and which of you is Holmes, you can settle things once and for all by treating them to a The Hound of The Baskerville personalised classic which lets you swap the characters’ names for those of your choosing. A word to the wise, my little sister got me an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland personalised classic, and the recipient gets to choose the characters on the internet. If settling disputes like me and the boyfriend, intercept the pack and do this for them then give them the finished book.

 

 

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iconThis working magnifying glass necklace is a great gift for budding detectives or someone who keeps misplacing their reading glasses. Pair it with this cute and quirky knitted deerstalker hat for this season’s take on the consulting detective look.

 

 

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iconIt might come as a surprise to people who haven’t lurked in the darkest corners of Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle internet fandom but the question of what tea Sherlock Holmes drank is a contentious one and causes heated debate among more special interest fans… Adagio tea has responded to this brewing crisis (couldn’t help myself… sorry) by creating this set of teas with an exclusive blend for each of the main characters in the BBC’s adaptation, Sherlock. Don’t worry, favourite characters are also represented.

 

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iconIf you are decorating your study (in Scarlet) or any other room in your house, or know a Sherlock Holmes fan who is, then these art prints may be just the ticket. Being a lady with expensive tastes, I really like this Sherlock Holmes silhouette print which has been carefully constructed from well-chosen quotations for £75.

 

 

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iconHowever, I am also a lady who knows my budget, so this print of Sherlock Holmes keywords is a more affordable compromise at £32.

 

 

 

 

 

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iconIf your Holmes fan is, like me, a big fan of the BBC adaptation Sherlock which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson, then they probably can’t wait for the new series to be released. Help them catch up with this box set of series one and two. It is coming soon, it is, it must be. And I still can’t figure out how he did it.

 

 

If your Holmes fan already has the Sherlock box set, firstly congratulate them on their well-maintained DVD collection, then consider leading them in the direction of the Elementary box set which stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. I know what you’re thinking, I expected to hate it as sacrilege too. But I actually really enjoyed it and will buy pre-ordering for my father and hoping that it comes in time for Christmas. This shopping game is afoot.

Wrapping the Worm- Best Gift Wrap for Readers 2013

Today is my last realistic-to-shop-after pay-day before Christmas so I’ve started out with the easy stuff first- wrapping paper. The following book/typography/whimsy wrapping papers are sure to be a hit with the reader in your life.

 

 

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iconThese pillow gift boxes from The Alphabet Gift Shop are very cute, Christmassy and affordable at just £2.50 ideal for some bookish jewellery

 

 

 

This pink typewriter wrapping paper is retro cool and would look great teamed with bright ribbon on a present for a writer or reader. And remember, a typewriter is not just for Christmas

 

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This gorgeous scrabble gift wrap is an affordable classic.

 

 

 

And speaking of classics these Penguinand Ladybird Classics are bound to be popular choices with readers:

 

 

 

 

If typography is more your thing then this newspaper style wrapping paper from the “partnership” aka John Lewis is likely to please. 4m of Christmassy kitsch.

 

 

 

 

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If you’re looking for something a little less typography focused which is sure to please a Science Fiction fan then this robot wrapping paper is very sweet (I am definitely getting this for my boyfriend’s present).
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These are my favourites, but be sure to check out The Literary Gift Company and The Bodleian Library Shop for their great ranges extra ideas.
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Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park

Central Park Alice in Wonderland Statue with ChildrenI love that the Alice in Wonderland Memorial Statue for Margarita Delacorte in Central Park is intended for children to play on, it’s incredibly charming, having been polished smooth by children’s hands since it arrived in the park in 1959, and you can understand why it’s such a popular landmark to photograph.

 

However, something that you never seem to see is the beautiful quotations around the base of the statue, which were perhaps my favourite thing about it:

Alice Twinkle twinkle Little Bat Alice Speak Roughly to your little boy Alice Twas Brillig Alice Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee Battle

I found the last one really moving, it’s the dedication from the husband of the woman who the statue is dedicated to. I wish I could find out a bit more about her, this is just so beautiful. The kind of memorial you’d want if you could choose.

Alice in Wonderland Central Park Dedication

 

Literature Spotting in Central Park

If you ever drop in on my Twitter account, you’ll know that I was in New York for work last week. Working with jet lag was… interesting, fun but very hard work concentrating. The upshot was that my hotel was very close to Central Park so I went wandering there in the afternoons after work and spent most of Saturday marching around from landmark to landmark, from The Mall to The Conservatory Water (via the zoo…). I loved Central Park and could wax lyrical about how amazing I thought it was for hours (pops up in so many books as well) but I won’t instead I will share with you some of the literary statues I managed to track down using a Central Park Map I printed before I went.

Central Park Alice in Wonderland Statue with Children

Alice in Wonderland Statue- Memorial to Margarita Delacorte

Central Park Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Hans Christian Andersen Statue

Central Park The Mall Burns

Robert Burns Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Halleck

Fitz-Greene Halleck Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Statue on The Mall

Central Park The Mall Scott

Walter Scott Statue on The Mall

I tried getting to The Shakespeare Garden and hunting down the Romeo and Juliet statue on the Saturday but unfortunately that whole area was fenced off for an Alicia Keys/Stevie Wonder concert that I didn’t have a ticket for… did I miss anything else?