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

 

 

 

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Y.A. New Releases: Non Spoiler Book Reviews

‘The Upside of Unrequited’ by Becky Albertal

‘The Hidden Memory of Objects’ by Danielle Mages Amato   and

‘Between Two Skies’ by Joanne O’Sullivan

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This month I received three book subscription boxes with Y.A. fiction new releases and I really enjoyed all three.

 

I’ll start with ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ by Becky Albertal and published by Balzer and Bray.

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Here’s the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love- she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness- except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolken superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

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QUOTE: ” I texted with Mina for four hours last night” she says as soon as we step outside. It tumbles out of her mouth like she’s been bursting to tell me.

“Wow”

“I know”

I feel Cassie looking at me, and I can tell she wants me to say something.Or ask something. Maybe it’s twin telepathy- I can just feel her excitement. It’s like it has a pulse.

Somehow, I don’t think this is about finding me a boy-friend….’

 

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So first of all I have to give this book five stars just for the amount of diversity it includes. It has everything!

I liked just about every character too, which is rare for me. I love that Molly is a crafter and enjoys to make beautiful things. I love that she is so sweet and untainted with her view of the world. I love her sister Cassie who seems more confident and worldly wise to Molly, yet who also has insecurities of her own. I love the guys, each different yet all loveable. Most of all I ADORE the grumpy grandma who has loud opinions of everything and everybody and doesn’t care who knows it; she made me laugh out loud! This is an amazing contemporary coming-of-age read, that has you laughing, crying and everything in-between, but most of all, you GET Molly. You are inside her head. You know how she feels and why. I have to give this book a solid 4 stars. My only critique is the cover design- yes really! It annoys me. It’s a beautiful blue but it the graphics just come across as having had zero effort in design. Sadly, if I had not received the book in a subscription box, I most likely would have walked right past it on the shelf because it doesn’t grab my interest at all. Please pick it up; it’s a super story.

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Next I’m moving on to ‘The Hidden Memory of Objects’ by Danielle Mages Amato and published by Balzer and Bray

The synopsis:

 

‘Megan Brown’s brother Tyler, is dead. But the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide- something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell- at fifteen; she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, Megan now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings- and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia- objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners- Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother’s charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

Danielle Mages Amato’s extraordinary debut is a story of how the things we leave behind continue to shape our memories and identities ling after we are gone.’

 

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QUOTE:

‘As I spun the dial on the lock, the overpowering smell of flowers made my stomach turn, and I felt another headache coming on. The lights overhead seemed to get brighter and brighter, and I struggled to see Tyler’s locker combination on the little slip of paper the Vice Principal had  given me. Just as I opened the door, a group of guys pushed past me to get to their lockers.

One of them was Tyler…’

I’m a great crime/ mystery lover so this book was of immediate interest to me. I also love anything with spiritual undertones too, so I knew I’d love this story on both counts and I wasn’t disappointed. We have so many thrilling elements in this book that keep the story moving forward, yet we also have time to see the characters change and grow too.

First and foremost, Megan is grieving. She is shell-shocked and stunned. Her brother may have committed suicide, he may have had a drug problem, and she had no idea that he was going through anything at all. He was the popular kid. He was thoughtful, kind, talented and basically everything that Megan aspired to be. What went wrong?

Her parents are also grieving and each trying to cope in their own way- so this leaves Megan pretty much alone. As she struggles to come to terms with her brothers death, she turns to two friends for help, and between them, they try to unravel Tyler’s last weeks of life.

As Megan picks up her brother’s belongings from his school locker she finds herself jolted into his memories, experiencing them from his point of view. This unnerves her badly but she is so determined to solve the mystery of her brother’s death, she is willing to do whatever it takes to discover exactly why her brother was in a deserted building in the middle of the night, alone.

I felt so sorry for Megan as she tried to absorb so many shocks so soon. Her brother died, she misses him, her parents aren’t coping well, and she has tapped into a psychic talent that she had never experienced before. But this girl is kick-ass! She takes it all on the chin and picks herself up after every punch and tries again- she will not be beaten by this!

I think I enjoyed this book the most. It’s another contemporary, but it also has elements of mystery and mysticism too. It covered so many bases for me. The pacing was good, the characters were very human and understandably flawed, and Megan’s character was admirable and courageous in face of all the elements against her. Another four star read. Possibly a 4.5 if we can split hairs.

 

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Finally, last but not least is ‘Between Two Skies’ by Joanne O’sullivan and published by Candlewick Press.

The synopsis:

‘Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; wise beloved Mamers; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that comes only when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s.

And then the storm comes. And everything changes.

Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru- a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart.

This novel asked compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But perhaps, above all, this is a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.’

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QUOTE: “You have to quit moping” says Chase one afternoon while he’s driving me home. “Look, when I got kicked out of the best music school in the country, I felt like a huge disappointment to everyone in my life. But it’s temporary. Something else is coming for you. Right now, You’re in what we call a fremata in music. A long pause. You have to hold that note for a while longer. But then you go on to the rest of the composition. Just wait it out.” …

 

Oh gosh, where to start with this one… We have all heard about Hurricane Katarina and the devastation that it incurred in its wake, but have we ever really thought past the news stories and concerned ourselves with the lives and futures of the people who lived through it? This story focuses on one girls life and future and how it is wiped out in seconds.

For many of us, we want to live bigger lives and often try to accomplish this by leaving our hometowns for college and not looking back; but what if you were completely content with your life? Evangeline is smart and has what it takes to lead a big life in a big City but has no interest in leaving her hometown. Her parents are encouraging her to think about college, but she wants to spend her life following in her father’s footsteps, fishing, and living life by the water. Her mother runs a diner in town with a reputation for good food that is second to none, and life is gentle but good.

Hurricane Katarina arrives and suddenly it not only wipes out the whole town, taking with it her family’s home and income; but it also threatens to destroy relationships too.

Evangeline’s family have to leave the state and stay with relatives, trying to build up their lives again in a new place with nothing but the clothes on their back. Missing friends, a new romance and people around her, crumbling under the pressure, have Evangeline knocked from pillar to post as she tries so hard to take control of her life once again.

This was beautifully written and I was drawn into the book at the first page. I was actually annoyed at my household interruptions while reading because I so wanted to read this in one sitting!

I think O’Sullivan handled every aspect of this girl’s story with great empathy and compassion, which made me feel a little guilty for not thinking deeper at the repercussions that this kind of natural disaster brings. Evangeline grows up overnight, and has to plot a new future for herself but she does it admirably, finding anchors in new friends and adapting to the ‘new normal’ around her. Her resilience is amazing, yet when she falters, we are there with her, wanting to hold her hand and reassure her that she will get through this.

This book is bittersweet, no doubt about it. You will be forced to face things you would rather not, but I think you will be a better person for reading it. I’m giving this five stars. It’s a haunting read. It will linger.

 

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I hope you find these reviews helpful and that you pick one of these books up. Even if you are not a big fan of contemporary fiction, or don’t normally read young adult books, please give them a try.

 

What new releases have you read recently? Which do you recommend?

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‘Given to the Sea’ by Mindy McGinnis Spoiler free book review.

 

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This is my first book by Mindy Mcginnis and I received it in my ‘Fairyloot’ April monthly subscription box. I do love the fantasy genre, and I had just completed a book when this arrived, so I figured that I would choose this as my next read and avoid the agony that I normally go through as I peruse my book shelves to search for my next choice.

 

Lets start with the book’s synopsis:

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KHOSA was born to be fed to the sea. To prevent the kind of wave that once destroyed the Kingdom of Stille. She can’t be sacrificed until she produces an heir, but human touch repels her…except for the touch of the Indiri.

 Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race with magic that’s seductive- a force of nature- but dwindling since the Pietra slaughtered their people.

 Witt leads the Pietra, the fierce warriors who are now marching on the Kingdom of Stille. The stone shores of Witt’s Kingdom harbor a secret threat, and to ensure the survival of his people, he’s prepared to conquer every speck of Stille’s soil.mermaid 4

 Vincent stands to inherit the throne of Stille, but has no wife to share it with. When the beautiful and mysterious Khosa arrives without an heir, Vincent knows that his father will stop at nothing to make sure she fulfills her duty. Torn between protecting his Kingdom and protecting the girl whose face is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is soon at odds with his heart.

 While royals scheme, Pietrans and the Indiri struggle to survive, the rising sea calls for its Given, and Khosa is destined to answer.’

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Firstly I will have to say that I most likely would not have picked this book up myself after reading the synopsis. It appears too ‘busy’ too many characters and too many agendas vying for attention, and that usually puts me off.

However, I was certainly drawn in by the stunning book jacket design by Cliff Nielson and Maria Fazio.

 

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This is a story told from multiple perspectives. Khosa’s chapters are the only ones written in first person, so I initially assumed that she was the main character with the others as supporting cast. However, as I read on, I felt this was not the case. Here is my own synopsis:

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Khosa was conceived to be a sacrifice to the sea, as was her mother before her, and all female ancestors. Born out of superstition and fear, her life is a gift from the people from the Kingdom of Stille to the sea. They believe that by sacrificing ‘The Given’, to it, the sea, the sea would be assuaged from eating up the last of the diminishing land that it has been nibbling for generations. Khosa has been bred for this reason only, and her ‘keepers’ have succeeded in brainwashing her to yearn for this, without fear. As such, she has no hopes or ambitions other than waiting for her fate to be sealed. However, she needs to first choose a mate, and she is loath to do so as she is repelled by human touch. The people in the Kingdom are getting restless, as she cannot be sacrificed until she has produced an heir. Only then can she be taken to dance on the sea.

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We soon meet the kind and honorable Vincent, who at the beginning of the story is third in line to the throne, and sees a dark future for himself of waiting in the wings forevermore, before fate finally calls him to become King. He is not particularly impatient for the throne, but he feels completely unmoored, drifting from day to day, just waiting for the day to arrive when he is able to perform the role that he was conceived to fulfill. Both Vincent and Khosa are victims of generations of fate and tradition; until the day they meet, when they see a true reflection of themselves in each other. It is only then that they begin to truly question their futures and whether the end can justify the means.

 

 

 

 

Add to this a cast of characters from different tribes with competing ambitions, and motivations, who are now put into situations where they have no choice but to question their own fates. The reader watches as the earth shifts beneath them all, and eons of tradition and rituals begin to be questioned by all. Is the future really set in stone?

 

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I found this book to be well written, and I had no problem with the flow, despite the constant changing of perspectives and very short chapters. McGinnis deftly picks up the story from character to character as the perspective shifts, and she slips easily into the soul of the next person. Each chapter is headed with the characters name, to further assist, and avoid confusion.

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I felt that the story was well executed, and I think it had a well-defined logic with an ending that wrapped it up nicely but could not be accused of being twee or predictable. Technically it was very good, and there lies my only problem with it.

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I have to reiterate that while the story is very well written, I felt that it didn’t have as much soul as I would have liked. I felt that McGinnis didn’t delve into the characters hearts quite as deeply as I would have prefered. Or perhaps she did? Maybe none of the characters were capable of any feelings other than negative ones. But what I would have given for a happy moment or two in this book!

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On the whole I felt it was a very sad and haunting tale. However, I felt it coasted along for at least three hundred pages before any action began, but it still managed to keep my interest until the end.

There were times when I did wonder how the author was going to bring this ship to shore satisfactorily in the diminishing pages that were left, but I have to concede that she did it with aplomb, and I didn’t close the book with any regrets, although I do have to say, that I did feel an overall air of depression threading right through the story, that was hard to shake.

 

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I’m not familiar with Mindy McGinnis’ earlier works so I’m not able to compare and contrast it with them, but I’m trying to be as fair as possible. Perhaps I need to pick up another of her books to discover if the maudlin tone runs through all her work or if this was just accrued as part of this story.

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This is my personal honest review. I’d be very happy to hear your own opinions of this book in the comments. I’d give it 3.75 stars for sure. It would have hit the 4 star mark if only there had been more lighthearted moments scattered throughout the pages.

 

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this book review!

lots of love, Sally xxx

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