The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

pepperharrowTitle: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 17th March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Step back into the enchanting world of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This extraordinary sequel takes readers to Japan, where time, destiny and love collide to electrifying effect

‘A Japan that never was, a future lost, ghosts that are not dead, random numbers, clairvoyant samurai … not even a partial list of ingredients can do justice to this wonderful cake of a book. A lovely blending of steam punk ether science, Japanese historical figures, and a time-defying thriller’ ROBIN HOBB

For Thaniel Steepleton, an unexpected posting to Tokyo can’t come at a better moment. The London fog has made him ill and doctor’s orders are to get out.

His brief is strange: the staff at the British Legation have been seeing ghosts, and his first task is to find out what’s going on. But staying with his closest friend Keita Mori in Yokohama, Thaniel starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons he won’t say, Mori is frightened. Then he vanishes.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labour camp in northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate.

As ghosts appear across Tokyo and the weather turns bizarrely electrical, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance – and that Mori might be in far more trouble than any of them first thought.

~*~

In 2015, readers were introduced to Natasha Pulley, Mori and Thaniel Steepleton in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Five years later, they’re returning in the Lost Future of Pepperharrow which sees Thaniel and Mori headed to Japan with their daughter, Six, as they seek to improve Thaniel’s health during a new posting for the British Legation in Tokyo to investigate ghosts, and strange goings on at a labour camp that bring them into contact with someone from Mori’s past – Takiko Pepperharrow.

The story moves between the past – up to ten years – particularly when dealing with Takiko, and 1888/1889 – the present in the novel, and how Mori and Thaniel navigate the mysteries and ghosts of Tokyo. In doing so, Thaniel finds himself falling into an unknown world, and when Mori disappears, and nobody knows where he is nor if he is still alive. It is an intricate plot that moves back and forth over a decade in Tokyo and Japan, highlighting issues of religion, the place of foreigners in Japan and the role of ghosts and clockwork as a common thread across both books. Denser than the first book, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow continues the story in surprising and eloquent ways.

Some aspects are most definitely historical – the Japanese Education Minister, Arinori Mori’s assassination and at least one of the prisons, whilst the rest might be based on history but has become a fantastical thing of its own, and borrows from history in order to create the world these characters populate and live in. The story is complex, immense and exceptionally told with rich detail where needed, and is immersive for time and place – making each aspect feel as though you were really there in the book with Thaniel – both when he was with Mori and whilst he was searching for him through Japan.

Each setting evoked a sense of being there – from the foggy streets of London, to the ships that sail across oceans and all the sights, sounds and sensations of Tokyo – both confronting and intriguing as seen through the eyes of Thaniel and his uncertainty as he investigates the ghosts, come together to create a story filled with so many different elements, some seem so small, it can be hard to define them easily, and with hints of magical realism, this is not a straight-forward historical fiction. It is much more layered and multi-faceted than that. It has so many layers that there were times I re-read a section – just to see if I had picked everything up, only to discover that some things had merely been hinted at in a very clever way that made sense towards the end. It maintained the balance of revealing things in the right place, and dropping little hints, and also, maintained the balance of good description and storytelling – neither was overdone. For each of these aspects – all books are going to be different in what they do and why – and when these elements as well as character, plot and setting combine, they create a story like this one that is clever and unique.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and hope that fans of Natasha’s first two books will as well.

Books and Bites Bingo Short story collection – Radio National Fictions (various short stories on ABC Listen app

books and bites game card

I don’t read that many short story collections – nor do I listen to audiobooks. The former is simply because they don’t often cross my path, and the latter because I know I’d never be able to focus on that much audio. I’m better with short bursts like podcasts, so when I discovered Radio National Fictions podcast, I knew it would perfectly fit not only any short story categories, but the audiobook category in another challenge I had thought I would never fill. I have devoured the first six, short stories in what is called the Oz Gothic category, where each I felt left a little to the imagination and had some open endings where anything could have happened after the story ended. As each week has a different short story, written and told by a different author or presenter, they will vary in themes, and once they finish the Oz Gothic theme, I wonder what will be next, as there are many areas to be explored with genre and theme or as a sole aspect of narrative.

radio national fictions

As each is only half an hour long, I find my attention does not wander as it would with a novel length audiobook, and so, they are perfect to listen to while I work. They are engaging and though they are brief, they evoke a sense of needing to know what happens almost as soon as it starts. Of course, there are probably going to be some stories I listen to more closely than others, or find more engaging but that happens in all areas of literature and why having a diverse range of books out there in a diverse range of formats allows us to engage with reading in a way that works for us.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

ladies goddess clubTitle: Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Murder and blackmail, family drama and love, all set within the shady underbelly of 1930s Kings Cross and its glamorous fringe.

‘Crime’s not a woman’s business, Joanie. It’s not some bloody game.’

In the murky world of Kings Cross in 1932, aspiring crime writer Joan Linderman and her friend and flatmate Bernice Becker live the wild bohemian life, a carnival of parties and fancy-dress artists’ balls.

One Saturday night, Joan is thrown headfirst into a real crime when she finds Ellie, her neighbour, murdered. To prove her worth as a crime writer and bring Ellie’s killer to justice, Joan secretly investigates the case in the footsteps of Sergeant Lillian Armfield.

But as Joan digs deeper, her list of suspects grows from the luxury apartment blocks of Sydney’s rich to the brothels and nightclubs of the Cross’s underclass.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club is a riveting noir crime thriller with more surprises than even novelist Joan bargained for: blackmail, kidnapping, drug-peddling, a pagan sex cult, undercover cops, and a shocking confession.

From the shadows of bohemian and underworld Kings Cross, who will emerge to tell the real story?

~*~

In 1932, bohemian life collides with the Great Depression, and Joan, an aspiring writer, and her friend, Bernice are at the heart of it in a boarding house in King’s Cross. Amidst all the balls and parties, there is a dark underbelly of crime linked to underworld razor gangs, and Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. Whilst all this is bubbling along, Joan’s neighbour, Ellie is murdered, and one of Sydney’s only female police officers, Special Sergeant Lillian Armfield, is called in to help with the investigation. As the case moves along, Joan’s determination to solve the case herself leads her into danger, and into the path of Hugh, a man who associates with the Communists and has his own secrets. As Joan continues to investigate despite being warned away by the police and other threats, she will uncover several shocks and secrets that she never thought possible.

It seems that mysteries set in the 1930s have been a common appearance on my blog these past couple of weeks, and a staple of these mysteries now and over the years has been the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which each book has dealt with uniquely and from different perspectives, and it’s interesting to imagine that even though the fictional characters inhabit different series, that just maybe in the fictional world, they were all present at the opening usurped by de Groot, but were unaware of each other’s presence. Whilst this is just a small scene in this novel, not only is it a significant turning point in the plot, but it also positions the  novel in a specific time and place, and allows the reader to gain some historical insight and context beyond the Great Depression and the razor gangs, all of which intersect to create a political and social backdrop to the murder that is being investigated.

It is a complex mystery, where each strand is slowly revealed and at times, might seem unrelated but when they come together, bring to life a remarkable and thrilling mystery. There are things hinted at that are cleverly revealed at the end, but at the same time, that when it is revealed, feels like everything was pointing to it much earlier, but had legitimate explanations. In doing so, Leatherdale has created spectacularly misleading characters who not only does Joan find believable in what we are told, but the reader does as well.

It is a very well-thought out mystery, and I felt delivered the right information at the right time. Historical information and bits of context are continuously peppered throughout, yet it is also not overdone. In fact, I do not think anything is overdone, as there is nothing unnecessarily described or used, and I loved the way Joan’s story was peppered throughout and the way the real case she was caught up in started to appear within the novel she was writing. The combination of the mystery and Joan’s aspirations were integrated well, as was the uncertainty of stability in employment and housing during the 1930s.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and think readers of historical fiction and mystery will enjoy it. Including real life historical figures creates an authenticity that allows a great immersion in the world of the book and sparks an interest in this history beyond what is often taught at school.

The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

the vanishing deepTitle: The Vanishing Deep

Author: Astrid Scholte

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Astrid Scholte, bestselling author of Four Dead Queens, brings fans a thrilling new standalone YA fantasy where the dead can be revived…for a price.

Two sisters. One dangerous secret. Twenty-four hours to uncover the truth.

Seventeen-year-old Tempest was born into a world of water. The most skilled diver on the Equinox Reef, she searches drowned cities with her older sister Elysea, seeking out old world treasures to trade for Notes. After Elysea mysteriously drowns, Tempest scavenges the ruins alone, driven to collect enough Notes to buy her sister’s life for 24 hours, and to finally learn the secret she had kept until her last breath.

However, once revived, Elysea convinces Tempest to break her out of the Palindromena research facility and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. But they’re pursued by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up, and to prevent them from uncovering the secrets behind the revival process and the true cost of restored lives.

Dead or living, everyone must pay the price.

~*~

As Tempest awaits to revive her sister, she reflects on what led to this day – the death of her parents five years ago, and three years after that, the death of her sister, Elysea. While she waits, Lor, posing as a Warden named Raylan at the Palindromena facility where people can pay Notes to spend a final twenty-four hours with a loved one waits to begin the revival process for the sisters. Elysea and Lor both have secrets – yet it is only Elysea’s secret that Tempest is desperate to know about. Yet Elysea’s realisation of what is happening leads to a breakout, and search for the truth in a gripping and exciting twenty-four hour journey, told in alternate perspectives through Lor and Tempest’s eyes as they travel from Palindromena to Equinox and to party islands on a journey to seek answers they’ve been denied for many years.

AWW2020Reading a fantasy book – whether a stand-alone, duology, trilogy or part of series, especially when it is by an Australian author with what felt to me like a very Australian flavour is always exciting. It’s great to see the Australian literary landscape across the board booming and growing, especially with fantasy. The Vanishing Deep is a fantasy set in a future where the landscape and world – presumably somewhere like Australia, has been adversely affected by rising sea levels. It is referred to as the Old World, which was destroyed by the Great Waves – all hint towards a world changed forever by a climate emergency and series of disasters that led to lives now being lived on Reefs and isles, and has a sense of discomfort about a possible future, and some readers may find the themes of death uneasy or distressing, though it is shown off the page initially, and the issues around death and revival build throughout the novel, and how the characters deal with it. It can be confronting, but not overly so, and I felt was dealt with in a sensitive and evocative way that shows the realities of life and death and shows the conflict of comfort and distress at spending another twenty-four hours with a loved one.  The unsettling feeling of a world engulfed in water is filled with senses – the salty smell of the sea, a constant feeling of being wet, intermittent sounds of silence and swirling waves, and fishy and salty tastes, all work together with the words on the page and a sense of distress and foreboding for what is going to happen to make this a high stakes story that is fast paced and can be very hard to put down. This makes it thrilling and exciting as well, and I am sure will find readers amongst young adult, fantasy and many other audiences.

Whilst Tempest is a teenager – she’s seventeen – the loss of her parents and her sister within a few years of each other has meant she has had to grow up far more than others her age on the Equinox may have done. Yet she still exhibits the feelings, and doubts that someone her age would, and I felt this balance and the way she grapples with having to act like an adult whilst still a child herself was well executed, and done in a way that will hopefully appeal to all those who enjoy Young Adult books. As this is a stand-alone, the story is encapsulated within wholly, and manages to combine themes of friendship and family in a way that gives hope to the reader, even in a world where things have gone horribly wrong.

February 2020 Round Up

In February this year I read seventeen books – several for pleasure, some for quiz writing purposes and the rest for review purposes – most coming out in March or in the next few months.

My current total stats for my reading challenges are:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12

AWW2020 -15/25

Book Bingo – 9/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 35/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 11/25

STFU Reading Society 4/12

Books and Bites Bingo 10/25

General Goal – 31/165

For the Book Bingo Challenges, I am aiming for one book per square, and have several posts scheduled for each one – the monthly book bingo challenge is scheduled until at least September, with three categories to go. Some challenges have multiple books in a category, which is why they might have higher numbers, and some I am still trying to find or track down the right books for some categories. As always, I have linked the reviews here to make compiling my end of year posts a bit easier.

February – 17

 

Book Author Challenge
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge,

Books and Bites Bingo, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

The Good Turn Dervla McTiernan Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Dragon Masters: Future of the Time Dragon

 

Tracey West Reading Challenge,
The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s First Serial Murderer

 

Tanya Bretherton Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Dolphin Island: A Daring Rescue Catherine Hapka Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
The River Home Hannah Richell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Vanishing Deep Astrid Scholte The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Radio National Fictions (various short stories) Various Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Withering-by-Sea (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue)  Judith Rossell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge,
Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club Julian Leatherdale Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge,
Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes) Petra James Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Story Puppy Holly Webb Reading Challenge
Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy Rick Riordan Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Books and Bites Bingo
The Bell in the Lake Lars Mytting Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge
The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour Ally Carter Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Republic of Birds Jessica Miller Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Captain Marvel Hero Storybook Steve Behling Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily

 

The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

dark prophecyTitle: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 30th April 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The second title in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series – set in the action-packed world of Percy Jackson.
The god Apollo, cast down to earth and trapped in the form of a gawky teenage boy as punishment, must set off on the second of his harrowing (and hilarious) trials.
He and his companions seek the ancient oracles – restoring them is the only way for Apollo to reclaim his place on Mount Olympus – but this is easier said than done.
Somewhere in the American Midwest is a haunted cave that may hold answers for Apollo in his quest to become a god again . . . if it doesn’t kill him or drive him insane first. Standing in Apollo’s way is the second member of the evil Triumvirate – a Roman emperor whose love of bloodshed and spectacle makes even Nero look tame.
To survive the encounter, Apollo will need the help of a now-mortal goddess, a bronze dragon, and some familiar demigod faces from Camp Half-Blood. With them by his side, can Apollo face down the greatest challenge of his four thousand years of existence?

~*~

As I work my way (slowly, mainly due to other commitments) through these four books after being sent the latest by the publisher after the publication date, I’m finding the way the author includes mythology and ancient history in the modern world amidst modern issues interesting. It is first and foremost the mythology that I am interested in, and as I was sent book four late last year, decided to read the first three so I knew what to expect and what was going on.

There are some series that I find easy to read out of order, as they tend to be their own singular stories that are linked through a theme, genre or character. However, there are some that I do feel need to be read in order, and this one is one of those series. As Apollo moves through his tasks to earn back his immortality from Zeus, he keeps running into Meg, and is accompanied by Leo Valdez and sorceress Calypso as they journey across America in pursuit of Nero and those who are trying to stop Apollo.

Apollo often references all kinds of literary and musical highlights and has a running commentary about how good he is – and how he is responsible for certain bands and songs. This is secondary to the ongoing plot, and Apollo’s godlike mind and memories is at constant odds with what his mortal teenage body is capable of.

The combination of Greek and Roman elements makes sense as the Romans would eventually usurp the Greek society and culture and assign their own names to the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. As someone who loves reading about Greek mythology, I find the way it is used in contemporary literature interesting, as each retelling and reimagining is unique, and some are very cleverly done. At the very least, this series makes it accessible to new readers and this will hopefully spark an interest in Greek mythology beyond this series.

The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3) by Dervla McTiernan

the good turnTitle: The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3)

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Some lines should never be crossed. Police corruption, and investigation that ends in tragedy and the mystery of a little girl’s silence – three unconnected events that will prove to be linked by one small town.

While Detective Cormac Reilly faces enemies at work and trouble in his personal life, Garda Peter Fisher is relocated out of Galway with the threat of prosecution hanging over his head. But even that is not as terrible as having to work for his overbearing father, the local copper for the pretty seaside town of Roundstone.

For some, like Anna and her young daughter, Tilly, Roundstone is a refuge from trauma. But even this village on the edge of the sea isn’t far enough to escape the shadows of evil men.

~*~

The Good Turn is the third Cormac Reilly novel, but the first I have read, and I found it very easy to get into, even though I haven’t read the first two, which I will now go back and do. This novel is set in 2015 – and centres around a series of seemingly unrelated crimes and people, and evolves into two separate storylines revolving around Cormac Reilly, whose enemies start to undermine him as he looks into the disappearance of Peggah Abbassi with his team in Galway. When the case comes to an abrupt end, Peter Fisher is sent to Roundstone. In his exile, he is forced to work with his father, faces what looks like further police corruption, in a town where community policing supposedly is the goal. Amidst all of this, Anna Collins and her daughter, Tilly had arrived in Roundstone from Dublin – has their arrival coincided with the series of events occurring around the other cases, or is it a separate reason for their arrival?

Each mystery is seemingly separate – and moves between Galway and Roundstone and also back in time – where hints are dropped about Tilly and Anna, but enough is held back throughout about each mystery that it drives it towards the end, and lays out those we think are guilty, those who people think cannot be guilty and at times, totally throws a spanner in the works when it comes to uncovering what is going on. Slowly, each case and tragedy starts to intersect, and slowly weave together to bring the novel to its conclusion, and the way Cormac, Peter, Anna and Tilly figure out their lives and resolutions to the issues at work and with family that bubble throughout the novel, across Ireland and Europe.

AWW2020This was the first Cormac Reilly book I read in the series, and whilst I am guessing some things in it refer back to the previous books, I found that I was able to follow everything really well despite not having had a chance to read them yet. It was written and told in a way that I feel readers can read from any point and go back to the previous books – each story is its own encapsulated event much like the Phryne Fisher books or the Rowland Sinclair books – each case is its own event and sure, some things from the past might be mentioned in passing, but if the main plot doesn’t hinge on these mentions, it is a joy to read.

Dervla McTiernan also reveals things when it is necessary for the reader to know, and she doesn’t overdo descriptions – she gets the balance of what we need to know and leaving enough up to the imagination really well done, and to me, this is what makes a good crime novel – where we’re told what we need to know without going over the top, but at the same time, given a chance to guess, or fill in gaps for ourselves. It adds to the experience of reading the novel, and I will definitely be going back to the first two books now – hopefully this year.

The Irish setting was also lovely – I love Ireland, and this book marks off several challenge categories, including a book bingo one for later in the year, so keep an eye out for that post. Moving between the small and larger settings worked well too, as it showed that nowhere is ever truly safe or free from insidious crimes and characters – just that these crimes might manifest themselves in different ways and be perpetuated by different people – as it is with all crimes anywhere. It is a series that I will now be eagerly following – and am pleased that I have the two previous books – as well as many others by other authors – to tide me over until the next Cormac Reilly comes out.

Peter, Diedre and Cormac are great characters – not perfect – they are human and flawed and they can recognise these flaws. They are also there for each other, and I liked the dynamics that I got to experience between them throughout the novel and the way they interacted with other police officers, those in their personal lives and in their wider communities. Another great crime novel from an Irish-Australian author I will be watching with keen interest.