Best Books I read in 2018!

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Happy (almost) New Year Everybody!         _BirthdayQueen_0028_29

Are you as excited to  begin 2019 as I am!

Have you any New Year’s resolutions ready?

I’m determined to make this year the year that I take control of my health and fitness.

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I know it’s a cliche, but for me this is a priority. Every day is a gift to me now, and I want to take advantage of every moment and squeeze as much joy out of it as I can!

 

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

Did you get any new books?

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I had a lovely Christmas. It was a quiet one with my husband and our boys this year. They’re getting older now so we don’t have all the preparation for santa’s visit, or the early mornings to contend with, so it was a lovely relaxing one, with no rush, no appointments, and no stress. Perfect! aqua-bath-flower1

Believe it or not, I didn’t open  a single book for Christmas this year. My husband waited until the day after and then dropped me off at my favorite Barnes and Nobel store, and let me immerse myself in the luxury of being able to choose whatever I wanted. I bought a wide selection of both novels and inspirational reads, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

What’s your favorite book of 2018?

I had a fabulous reading year, and pretty much enjoyed every book that I read. So I thought that I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year with you today. I could do a countdown, but I just can’t wait. Lets just get straight to it. Drum roll….The most outstanding book of 2019 for me, was N0S4R2 by Joe Hill.

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THAT BOOK! It was not only my favorite read of 2018, but it has even hit a high place on my all time top ten reads EVER! If you love a good horror story, go and pick it up. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I think it’s good to go in without a map. But lets just say that if you take a creepy old man who drives around in his antique car, abducting young children, and promising to take them to ‘Christmas land’; it’s going to be a book that you cannot put down.

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This year I’ve made a special effort to  pick up work from authors that are new to me. I don’t know about you, but I’m a creature of habit, and tend to stick with the same pool of authors that I’ve read for years. Thats the beauty of Bookstagram- I learn about different authors and new works that I may have otherwise overlooked in a book store.

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One outstanding author that I turned to this year was Wilbur Smith. Growing up, he was my dad’s favorite author, and he bought Smith’s books as soon as they came out. There was no Instagram back then, and so I always thought they were ‘men’s’ books- aimed at a male audience. So I didn’t venture as far as picking one up back then. AutumnFairytaleClips_0002_1

however, a few weeks ago I was in a book store and I noticed the Wilbur Smith books winking at me from the shelf, so I picked one up out of nostalgia and curiosity. They’ve updated the covers and they’re just beautiful. Just holding the book set off many happy memories for me of my Dad, and I figured ‘why not?’

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I decided to buy some, thinking of it as a wonderful way of connecting with him across time and space. I chose the Egyptian series since I love anything to do with ancient Egypt.

The first book was ‘River God‘ and was centered around the life of the  slave Taita in ancient Egypt, and his relationships with his mistress and the Pharaoh. It is an epic story, that is made so much more interesting as it  has so much fact woven in with the fiction. The second book ‘The Seventh Scroll ” jumps forward to more contemporary times, and to an expedition to find the lost treasures of the aforementioned Pharaoh and the slave Taita based on the story of the first book. Both books were fantastic reads with action and adventure along with great historical interest and lots of mystery and suspense woven in. I loved them. There’s actually six in the series and I am so excited to pick up book number three.

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Smith has written so many books and so many series that I’m now really looking forward to reading. I hope you give him a try!

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Anther notable author for me this last year was Grady Hendrix. He seems to have exploded onto the horror scene with a slew of amazing books. My first read of his was ‘ My Best Friend’s Exorcism‘, followed by ‘Horrorstor” and of course his non fiction catalog ‘Paperback’s From Hell‘. I am looking forward to reading ‘We Sold our Souls. Hendrix’s writing style is really unique in the genre. He manages to scare the bejeebas out of you and yet give you warm fuzzies at the same time. His work is part nostalgic, 1980′ s vibes, and part supernatural suspense. Whatever you want to call it, it works.

 

Other outstanding books that I’d recommend this year are:

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Dracul by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker . Get it HERE

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Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay . Also from HERE 

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For children’s books, I’ve finally discovered Mary Downing Hahn books which they LOVED. These are all suspense and spooky books but not too scary. Click to follow the links.

The Ghost of Cratchfield Hall

One for Sorrow

The Doll In The Garden

and Closed For the Season 

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So, to highlight some of my best reads this year. Here are some of the others that I read this year and loved. I’ve tried to include lots of different genres here, so that there’s something that might take your eye:

Best Vintage book has to be Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

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Best Biography Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

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and I also loved this YA Biography of Mary Shelley ‘The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s creator Mary Shelley by Catherine Reef

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Best Debut YA book Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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Best Historical Fiction The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.

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I could go on and on, because I read so many superb books in 2018. If you want to see more, then just pop across to my Instagram feed which is linked on the right, and see if you agree with my thoughts on the books I have read.

Do you have any you want to recommend to me? drop me a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful new year, stay safe. Remember to stick with a friend if you’re out partying. Male or female, you’re safer in a group.Charge up your phone, wrap up, and have fun!

Lots of love and best wishes for 2019 xxx

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Buying into Bookstagram: The pressure to purchase props?

 

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Hello again bookworms!

A couple of posts ago, we discussed the dreaded new Instagram algorithm and the detrimental effects it has been suggested to have, towards small accounts. We talked about how Instagram has no immediate plans to reverse or change the algorithm, believing that it works better now ,and so we therefore considered some of the actions we could take to work with it rather than against it . (If you haven’t seen the post, just scroll down to find it.)

 

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Today I’m back to talk some more about Bookstagram- our own little book nook where we readers can share our love of reading with each other, and pass on reviews and recommendations, whilst building friendships and joining in discussions with other book lovers. I specifically want to address another issue that’s been bothering me, and see if you think it affects you too.

 

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I’m talking about the pressure to purchase and how easy it is to overspend.

How our pursuit for perfection in our daily posts, can create a pressure to constantly buy.

Buy more books, buy more book props, buy more book merchandise, basically: the pressure to spend, spend, spend!

Do you feel it?

I do. Or I did.AutumnFairytaleClips_0011_1

 

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In the beginning, I really enjoyed just sharing my love of books with other people and I’d happily display my latest read, with very little adornment. Perhaps I’d just add a tray, with a cup of tea on it, and take my photograph. That was good, and if I got the lighting right, I was more than happy to share it.

Then I discovered some fabulous apps. I became slightly more creative, and could not only lighten dull pictures, but could add some pretty cute effects too. It was fun. It was easy, and I felt more like I belonged in the Bookstagram community and was less like a newbie.

I wanted to post great pictures, and for them to be creative and interesting. And it was great fun… to begin with. I loved trying to think of new ways of showcasing my current reads. I remember that at first I would add fresh flowers to my pictures, and I liked how colorful it made them. It was quite some time before I realized that I could buy faux flowers and use them again and again!

 

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As my follower count slowly climbed up, and I became excited and wanted to make my feed as interesting as possible. I soon discovered all the lovely bookish merchandise, and thought that including more of those in my pictures, would make them more interesting and would  please my followers.

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It crept up on me slowly.

It began with candles. I was already quite the candle collector, with Yankee candles  So initially, I would included those in my posts, and I was happy with the result for a while. But they weren’t bookish. Everywhere I looked there were candles being designed for every genre. So many beautiful ones. They looked amazing on people’s’ feeds. So I started ordering a few myself.

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A few led to many, and many led to me subscribing to monthly candle subscription boxes, from just about every candle maker on IG! Oh they are all gorgeous, and I have never met a bookish candle that I didn’t like. I have nothing but respect for the wonderful small businesses that supply the scent’s to compliment our favorite book characters either. But did I really need twenty different Harry Potter themed candles? Are my fifteen Sarah J. Maas inspired character scents really necessary? for a long time, I truly believed with all my heart that they were.

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Then I discovered bookish subscription boxes. Oh my goodness, how wonderful! I believe I tried every one. I intended to try each one once and then only subscribe to one or two that were the best. Hmmmm. That didn’t quite work out for me. If I missed a month, and then watched an unboxing, I was devastated. I’m talking total FOMO here. I eventually found myself subscribed to seven book boxes and at least three candle subscription boxes each month. And yet I wondered where my money was going. These babies are at least thirty bucks for each box!

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One day it finally hit me. I was moving my little library from the small spare bedroom to the larger game room that we rarely used. Moving each book shelf, each book, each candle by myself, I couldn’t fail to see quite how much I’d collected. As I organized my new room, I set aside so many trinkets that I’d received in my subscription boxes, and the pile mounted and mounted, and I just didn’t know what to do with them.

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Even worse, as I carried in so many opened (and then promptly forgotten) subscription boxes, with books I still had not read, that I realised that it was the thrill of receiving the boxes that I was addicted to , rather than the goods inside them!

That was not what I set out to do, but somehow I lost my way.

That was many months ago, and I now only buy what I truly want. I still enjoy watching unboxings, but I’m not about to rush off and purchase every single one that I like. I’ll limit myself and I’ve found that I appreciate what I do buy, much more.

I’m baring my soul for a good reason. I don’t want you to fall into the trap that I did. It happened so slowly that I was barely aware of it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the stores for creating products that they know we ‘need’ I take total responsibility for my own purchasing: nobody held a gun to my head. I was more than happy to pull the trigger myself. I got lost in the thrill of the chase.What began as a way to make my feed more interesting, became a spending spree for the latest bookish product!

But I’m afraid that if it can happen to me, it can also happen to the teenager who hasn’t the finances to support the spending. It can also happen to person who has an important bill to pay, but who really wants that bookish product because it looks sooooo lovely. Choose wisely guys. Learn from my mistakes.

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I know now that my friends and followers don’t care about the props that I use, they’re here for the books. They follow me because they share my love of books and want to discuss this mutual love with someone who ‘gets it’. My feed has evolved many times, over the last couple of years, and now I can honestly say that I am truly happy with what I share. I share what I love to read. It’s all about the books.

 

Instagram: Accepting the new Algorithm?

 

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Hi Bookworms!

Today I’m daring to dip my toes into some pretty dangerous waters- those of that touchy subject in the bookish community, namely the new algorithm and how it’s affecting us all on #bookstagram. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be talking about some of the highs and lows that we bookworms have experienced while feeding our addiction, and what we can do to keep our feeds relevant and entertaining.

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In today’s post I want to focus on what we can do about the new algorithm that we all love to hate; and later I’ll be sharing a post on the subject of how the #bookstagram addiction can easily run away with you if you’re not careful. So pop the kettle on (if you’re British) or crack open a soda (if you’re not) and snuggle down in a pile of bookish pillows mugfor a while because this is a long post.

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So… The algorithm. I don’t want to just moan. There’s been so much of that already. I’ve been churning this over in my mind for some time now about how it is affecting us and how we can head it off, and I think I’ve now gathered enough information to feel confident to finally comment about it.

 

Like many people, my feed was hit hard after the introduction of the new algorithm, as my follower count and likes first began to drop, and then levelled out but became pretty stagnant. When reading through the posts of the people I love to follow, time and again the algorithm was cited as being the cause of this, and so many ‘instafriends’ felt like they no longer wished to be part of this fabulous community, because their  posts were  going unrewarded with the likes  that they expected. I could see their point entirely. It sucked. After all their hard work to build up their feeds, it appeared that the rug had suddenly been pulled out from beneath them, and they had to start all over again.

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Along with feeling a little despondent like many of you, from time to time; I wondered what I could be doing wrong, and how I could remedy it. If it’s broke you fix it right? So I sat and pondered, how best I could approach the issue. I’ve been reading many articles from other unhappy ‘grammers’, and interviews with the Instagram staff, and what I’ve gleaned from it all is that we are basically stuck with the algorithm as it stands. Instagram seems to think that it works and they’re not in any rush to change it back again.

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So what can be done to work with this problem?

We need a solution.book girl glasses1

 

It breaks my heart to see some of my favorite feeds comment that they’re stepping away from the site because they’re not getting the interaction and growth that they are working so hard for.

So I’ve been closely monitoring the feeds that I love to follow, and also those that have huge growth in spite of the new algorithm and I’ve picked up a few clues that could help us to do the same.

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Firstly, the most obvious one is that the feeds that are making the best growth are those that are already well                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                established, and have follower counts in the tens of thousands. Because they are already so well established, many of them feature lots of different product endorsements  for companies that they may or may not love, and they in turn, are featured by those companies, which has a domino effect. Call it compounding. Unfortunately there’s not much we can do if we ourselves are late to the show, except to turn up everyday and keep trying. And of course we should continue to  pat our friends on the back for the success that they have achieved with their tenacity. After all, a rising sea lifts all boats.

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Secondly, we have the feeds that really pull out all the stops. Feeds that use photo shop and are extremely creative, are doing amazingly well. Flying books, miniature people in bottles, reading while hanging upside down from a tree, you name it! You have to applaud these guys.

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These feeds are so impressive! I love to see these pictures and I eagerly await each new photo just to see how astounding it will be. In short, the bar is being raised higher and higher every day. I realize that unless I make an effort to understand my photo shop software, I’m never going to be able to keep up. These feeds deserve all the likes and follows that they gain, because they make such a huge effort to entertain us. Many, many hours of set up and editing are invested before they post such impressive content.

Now let’s look at another tool that the most successful feeds use: their Instagram stories. Every successful feed that I’ve researched, posts an Instagram story on a daily basis- many post several times per day. I don’t know about you, but I love to see these glimpses of people’s lives. What’s going on behind the scenes? The irony is that we don’t REALLY want the full picture, but a candied version of the poster’s life. At heart we all love nosing into other peoples  windows at night.

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You don’t have to make yourself vulnerable in order to do this. We don’t need you to share EVERYTHING. You can pick and choose, but definitely give us SOMETHING. For example, I usually choose to post videos on my story of my picture set ups. I do this so that my followers can see close up details of what’s in the picture, that may not be prominent in the post. I tag everything that I can think of, but I leave out what I know my followers don’t want to see- all the mess behind me. Let’s face it, we say we want to see behind the scenes, but really we just want to lift the curtain just a little. We don’t really want to see that pile of books and props that are strewn around you. For goodness sake don’t break the spell! You can protest but you know deep down that it’s true.

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So, to sum up: Work harder, be more creative, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Here’s a funny story: Yesterday I woke up with the most ridiculous thought- what if I posted about the book ‘Rumplestiltskin’ and photographed my messed up bed, with my hand holding the book, and captioned it : ‘Rumpled sheets Skin’  (oh my goodness, this obsession is really getting to me! ) I didn’t act on it, because after I’d woken up completely, I dismissed it with a laugh and got on with my day. THEN, later my instabuddy (the lovely @oasisgirlmd) posted a beautiful picture themed on the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, and I just HAD to tell her about my waking thoughts. She laughed too but thought I should definitely create the post. Maybe I should. Just to be ridiculous. Just to step out of my comfort zone and do something different. The truth is, do what you feel in your gut. It may work out, and if it doesn’t, then you can just hit that delete button.

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I haven’t mentioned interaction yet. This is very important. To me, this is the best part of the community. I love the friendships that I have made through Instagram, and being able to share my love of the written word with likeminded people. My real life friends and family unfortunately don’t share my love of everything bookish, so I have to contain myself around them, and then fangirl with my bookstagram buddies. slippers

 

New accounts especially need the love. We’ve all been there, so please get to know the newbies. Follow and comment and refer. Build each other up. We all started with a zero follower count and hoped that people would take a chance and follow us.

 

When scrolling through my feed each day (and sometimes several times per day- lets be honest) , I may have lots of time or my time may be limited. I ‘like’ the pictures and comment on as many as I can, enjoying being able to cozy up in my little world of books. Sometimes, I can only have time to post one word or a couple of emoji’s, but I’ve interacted and it means something. It’s impossible to see every new picture that is posted each day, but I try to see as many as possible. I scroll as many as I can, but when it’s time to leave and enter the real world, I try to like at least another ten pictures before I step away. Every little helps.

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Lately (doing my research) I’ve been checking who likes my pictures. It’s usually the usual suspects, with one or two new ones in between. Thanks guys, you know who you are!!! But so many people follow and never like. Why is that? It confuses me. I’m personally very trigger happy. I suggest you look into your own feed and see who regularly makes and effort to show love and who doesn’t. It’s quite an eye opener.

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Finally, and this is very important- acknowledge the comments. Please. You may not be able to answer everyone right away, but try. I’m just as guilty of giving late replies sometimes, when life gets busy; but I try to go through my feed later and respond to everyone. It’s my pet peeve when some of the accounts that I’ve been following for a couple of years and used to love, begin to grow and then stop replying to their followers. They post and ask a question but then never respond when we answer. They want the followers but not the work. Soon that will show in their numbers because nobody wants to be ignored. There’s two accounts that I follow that have become like this, and I have just stopped trying to interact with them, after making the effort for so long with no acknowledgement. I still love their content, but I know I’m wasting my time answering their questions because they won’t respond. It’s so sad.

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So there you are. Lets just end this on a positive note, You absolutely CAN continue to gain likes and followers, but you need to switch things up a little sometimes and put some effort into not only your own account, but in the effort that you make towards those whom you follow.

To sum up. In short, we can complain about the algorithm as much as we want but it isn’t going to change anytime soon. So we need to suck it up and play our best game, because the field is full of talent and we need to push ourselves harder and give it our very best shot- otherwise we’ll be benched, and that’s no fun, is it?.

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* Post more creative content,

*post more often,

* post regularly on your stories,

*comment on other people’s posts

*respond to comments made on our own posts

*support the newbies

*share a little of your world behind the scenes

*pull yourself out of your rut

*take creative risks

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I can’t wait to see what you do. Tag me please!

Lots of love, Sally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-spoiler book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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I was delighted to receive an advance reader’s copy of ‘The Bedlam Stacks “ by Natasha Pulley to review, along with her first book: ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ from Bloomsbury Publishing.

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I have to say that I really enjoyed both books, but today I have just finished ‘The Bedlam Stacks’ so I will focus on a review this book first while it is so fresh in my mind.

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The synopsis:

bedlam leaf large 2        ‘In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall, England, with an injury that almost cost him his leg. On the sprawling, crumbling grounds of the old house, something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pine explodes, and his brother accuses him of madness.bedlam leaf large

When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch Quinine- essential for the treatment of Malaria- from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

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Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merricks grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.’

My strongest reaction after reading this book is how beautiful the author writes. To me, it is reminiscent of reading a classic, in both language and description. The story is set in 1859 and by goodness Pulley transported me there within the first chapter. This really was a book that I couldn’t put down!

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We are initially introduced to our protagonist Merrick, while he is back living in a tumbledown Country Manor house, which was inherited by his elder brother, Charles. Merrick was forced to give up his life as an explorer and an expert on botany, after he suffered an accident, which inhibited the use of one of his legs. Charles enjoys playing Lord of the Manor and seems to have little time for Merrick. He appears to enjoy pointing out all of Merrick’s perceived shortcomings. Merrick however, puts up with this treatment with little resistance, preferring to mind his own business and focus his attention on immersing himself into assisting the remaining gardening staff with the care and keeping of the grounds.

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After stumbling upon the old neglected greenhouse that his grandfather installed many years prior, Merrick takes refuge there and finds comfort away from his brother’s bullying and his own feelings of uselessness culminating from his leg injury.

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I loved Pulley’s description of the Manor and grounds. I could easily picture the dilapidated Mansion with the hole in the roof.

 

“Now there was a little carpet of pine needles over the middle of the floor. I twisted round to see upward. Although there were, on my side, three floors to the house, on this side it was just galleries off the staircase. The ceiling was the roof. Being windowless, it was usually gloomy, with deep shadows between the vaults of the rafters, but now there was quite a big hole. Right above it was a rotten branch still attached, just, to the old pine tree. It had been defying gravity for months.”

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Merrick seeks refuge in his greenhouse, and once there, he notices that a statue that was watching over his father’s grave has moved. This has happened more than once but nobody believes him since the statue is much too heavy to be pushed or lifted by any person or persons on a whim. On this particular day Charles joins him in the greenhouse, and when Merrick ponders out loud over the moving statue, Charles suggests that Merrick is showing signs of madness and comments that he ought to have him committed to an asylum! This is not a comment to be taken lightly, since Charles had their mother committed several years earlier.

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So when an old friend and colleague visits him later with a proposal he can’t refuse- to take Merrick with him on another expedition, this time to Peru; Merrick agrees, despite his disability. Thus begins a chain of events that will see Merrick face action and adventure, mystery and magic; and find friendship in unexpected places, all the while growing as a person. Merrick discovers that he has untapped strengths despite his leg wound, and his only limitations are those that he chooses to see as such.

I don’t want to give any spoilers away so I’ll stop sharing the story here, but let me tell you that this is just the beginning of a super story that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

 

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I love that Pulley doesn’t rush the story. She takes us step by step with Merrick through the Amazon and into danger. She builds up the atmosphere page by page, and gives us a slow burn of mystery and intrigue with a generous dose of magic mixed in.

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I liked Merrick so very much. He was only in his late thirties yet I pictured him as being much older due to his mannerisms and thought processes. Whether this was because of his limitations of mobility or just his old fashioned ways, I can’t be sure, but he was immensely likeable from start to finish. I was routing for him at every moment. It seemed that he was the type that people like to bully, and the reader has to watch helplessly as his friends and family members push him against his grain in order to suit their own agendas.

 

This is not a fast paced adventure; so don’t expect instant gratification. Read it like a classic, enjoying the nuances of the language, the broad descriptive and the journey rather than the destination.jungle Elephant

However, when you arrive at the destination, you will not be disappointed!

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‘The bedlam Stacks’ was a fully immersive read for me, into the culture and history of Peru from the point of view of an upper class Englishman who had fallen on hard times and had been offered one more chance at adventure and redemption.

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Pulley writes so convincingly as a man that I have to applaud her.

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While this book is a stand alone, I can see plenty of scope for it to become a duology. I feel there are still some outstanding questions that I would like to see answered, and I believe there is more room for development left open- or perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part!

 

If I had one criticism, and to be honest I don’t -but lets just invent one and put it out there anyway for sake of balance- I would say that I wanted more chapters of the English home after the Peru adventure. Any further description of life in a sprawling English Country pile is heaven for me.

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I unreservedly recommend this book. I wouldn’t ever have imagined that I would be interested in Peru as a setting if you had asked me in advance; yet, I thoroughly enjoyed every part of the journey through the Amazon. I would so LOVE to tell you about the magic (oh the magic) but it would break the spell, and we can’t do that.

 

The Bedlam Stacks is due for release in August 2017. Please put it on your #TBR