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

 

 

 

‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber – Spoiler free Book Review.

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Hi Guys, it’s time for another book review, and don’t worry, it’s a spoiler free one, as always!

Today I’m reviewing Stephanie Garber’s ‘Caraval’.

I’ve got to tell you that I was so excited when I finally got my hands on a copy of this book! I mean it has been so hyped on social media that I was a little nervous as to whether it could live up to my expectations.

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Here’s the official synopsis:

 

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.

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Sounds exciting, right?

Here’s my take:

 

Scarlett and her sister Donatella live on the Island of Trisda, where nothing exciting ever seems to happen. Their Mother apparently deserted them when they were tiny, and they have been raised by their angry and physically abusive father ever since. The only hope they have of having some fun in life is if the wandering Caraval show would visit there and put on a show. So for seven long years, Scarlett has been steadfastly writing to the Master of Caraval, Legend, begging for tickets for her and her sister, but never hears back from him.circus 7

Scarlett never gives up hope but is desperate to get off the Island and run away from her abusive father, so when he arranges a marriage for her with an important but unnamed Count from overseas, she reluctantly accepts that this may be her only chance of leaving the Island and her Father’s control.

 

Then one day, an invitation finally arrives for the sisters, and if they can only sneak away from their father, they will most certainly find the excitement they have been yearning for, for all of their lives. The normally sensible and diligent Scarlett has to decide whether to throw caution to the wind and embark on this great adventure, or stay home and wait to be wedded to the Count. The Caraval lasts for only five nights. Will it be possible to get there and back in time for the wedding? Nothing bd could happen could it? I mean, It’s just a game, and it’s not like one of them could be kidnapped or anything?… What would YOU do?

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Okay, so I LOVED this story! After a gentle introduction to the characters and their life on the Island, we are suddenly thrown into a rip-roaring ride where truth is fiction and fiction is truth, left is right, and down is up; and everything that you have ever known is shredded into pieces, and you are breathless and longing for more. It really is a roller coaster ride and a total page-turner for me.

The book sets up riddles and we go on a journey to follow the clues and solve the mystery in order to gain the ultimate prize of one wish.

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My first thoughts after finishing this book was that it NEEDS to be made into a movie! All the events that happened in the story would be so cool in a movie. I later learned that it the movie rights have been sold, so I’m estatic to say the least.

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I’ve read a few reviews myself about this book and the biggest critisism seems to be that readers don’t quite feel as attatched to the characters as they would like, and on this point I do feel that I can agree. Sometimes it seems that the action takes over and the book is so fast paced that the characters seem to be  a little one dimentional. There is romance and friendship and sibling rivalry, and sibling love and many more elements in the story, but I never felt truly invested in the people themselves. I cannot pinpoint exactly why but something was lacking here. Maybe it is because the Caraval characters are all playing a part and you never know what is true or false, so therefore I didn’t fully trust the emotions of the other characters in the story?

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However, I loved the journey, the mystery, the riddles and the action. I love that this is just the first book and that the story will continue. Each time I thought I’d guessed an outcome, the story would twist, and I’d be thrown off course again as the explanation was something completely different, and I’d suddenly fine myself pulled in another direction. This book cannot be accused of being predictive!

I also want to discuss the physical book because it’s just so gorgeous. The smart design and marketing people were so on point when they sent this book into the world. The dust jacket design features a stunning starburst design that catches the eye immeadiately. Thanks to social media, I chose to order the U.K copy because it featured five different gold embossed cover designs, and Amazon U.K who offer global delivery. But you can buy the U.S. version HERE.

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Look at the stunning book covers! I mean, I just HAD to collect them all. Tesco U.K stocks the exclusive top hat design.

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Moving on to the inside, where I adore the map that first greets you, and how every chapter has a beautiful wreath design. This truly is a beautifully designed book. So, Yes I would wholehearteldy recommend it and I cannot wait for the next installment as I want to be a part of the game all over again.