The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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Title: The Bedlam Stacks

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 1st August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An astonishing historical novel set in the shadowy, magical forests of South America, which draws on the captivating world of the international bestseller The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. The shrine statues move, and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria.

On the other side of the Pacific, it is 1859 and India is ravaged by the disease. The hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and in its desperation, the India Office searches out its last qualified expeditionary. Struggling with a terrible injury from his last mission and the strange occurrences at his family’s ruined estate, Merrick Tremayne finds himself under orders to bring back cinchona cuttings at any cost and dispatched, against his own better judgement, to Bedlam.

There he meets Raphael, a priest around whom the villagers spin unsettlingly familiar stories of impossible disappearances and living stone. Gradually, he realises that Raphael is the key to a legacy left by two generations of Tremayne explorers before him, one which will prove more dangerous and valuable than the India Office could ever have imagined.

~*~

Ex- East India smuggler, Merrick Tremayne is at home in Cornwall, recovering from an injury to his leg that inhibits activity for him when the India Office contacts him about an expedition to Peru to fetch some quinine to help treat malaria outbreaks in India. Tremayne instantly knows it is a bad idea : every able-bodied explorer has been unsuccessful, paying with their life, so he questions how he, a disabled explorer, will cope, survive and succeed. Lumped with orders to go, Tremayne is accompanied by a friend, Clem, and they venture into Bedlam, a holy town in uncharted Peru that holds many secrets of the past, and a sense of magic and history that will slowly unfold throughout the five parts of the novel, and reveal secrets about a Tremayne ancestor that Merrick had been unaware of. Accompanied by a priest, Raphael, whose presence indicates something a little out of the ordinary, lending to a sense of fantastical and magical realism within the novel.

The Bedlam Stacks is steeped in history and colonialist ideas and expectations of “The Other”, typically seen through Tremayne’s companion, Clem, whose ignorance and the sense that he felt his knowledge was superior came through at times, in contrast to Tremayne, who I felt made the efforts to understand and communicate effectively with Raphael and show his appreciation for what Raphael was doing for him. In 1860, when disability and injury might be more likely to inhibit what one is able to do, Tremayne copes, albeit with help when he needs it, and in what felt realistic, he is shown to struggle, but readers also get to see what he is capable of, in all areas of his person. It is a travel story with a difference, where the explorers are faced with the harsh realities of an unknown world that challenges their sense of being and self, and shows them just how human and vulnerable they are. They need rescuing by locals, and at times, they are shown to be imperfect, punctures to their egos that their upbringing might have inflated.

I liked Merrick’s sense of humility, and ability to stand back and let Raphael talk. It was refreshing to see this move towards equal standing of characters of vastly different backgrounds, much of which are extrapolated through flashbacks, cleverly inserted into the text without disrupting the flow of the story, and the vast majority is told in first person, with the exception of one chapter towards the end that gives the reader insight into Raphael and his past. Raphael’s absences of long periods of time are explained as catalepsy – by Merrick, who hears of Raphael’s symptoms and urges him to see a doctor – perhaps a marker of how he sees the world, juxtaposed with Raphael’s acceptance of things being the way they are. In doing so, Pulley has illustrated how two different worlds collide, and through this collision, have attempted to find a way to communicate.

Throughout the novel, odd things happen at different times, marking this as more than just an expedition into history and unexplored, uncharted areas of the world as they would have been in the 1860s. These instances hint at elements of fantasy and magical realism, and this makes it a very intriguing novel, as the layers of each chapter and part are revealed slowly to bring the story to it’s conclusion and the wrapping up of the characters and their lives, but at the same time, leaving some aspects open for interpretation and maybe another novel.

It was a enjoyable novel, and has made me want to read Natasha’s first novel. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. An enjoyable novel, and highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, mysteries and novels with that little bit of a difference that make them stand out.

Booktopia

Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman

norse-mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1 February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, bestselling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive on the page – irascible, visceral, playful, passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarok and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern readers and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be read aloud around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

~*~

Neil Gaiman has turned his terrific and inspiring talent with words to the realms of Norse Mythology –Odin, Loki, Thor, Freya, and all the others. He retells the major myth cycle of the Norse myths and pantheon for a modern audience, giving each god a voice, starting from their births, and the mischief they get up to, tricking humans and fellow gods alike – a characteristic that Loki, the trickster god, embodies without shame. Together with Thor and Freya, and Freya’s brother Frey, the story evolves naturally. Though written for a modern audience, the lyrical and oral nature of these original tales shines through.

Beginning with the creation story sparked by the death of Ymir, and concluding with the battle of Ragnorak, Norse Mythology takes myths that are not always as widely used or known as Greek and Roman myths, and repackages them for a modern audience, while still keeping the cadence and lyrical nature of the old stories, giving an image of ancient Norse people sitting around, telling stories of the Gods and myths, lessons learned through the oral tradition of their world.

Like many myth cycles throughout the world, it begins with creation, has the gods and goddesses and other beings causing mischief with each other and humans, causing havoc upon Earth through boredom or the need to do something, lives lived, anger, and finally, destruction and the end of the world.

Many of Neil Gaiman’s other works incorporate aspects of Norse Mythology. American Gods features Odin and Loki in a modern setting, so Norse Mythology is a natural progression, incorporating Gods, Goddesses, Dwarves and Frost Giants into the narrative that has existed for centuries. Norse Mythology reveals the romance and adventure of these tales, fairy tales retold for an audience who may have outgrown fairy tales. Like all his stories, Neil Gaiman’s lyrical style reminds adults of what reading a fairy tale is like – full of magic and whimsy, where bad things do happen but everything will be all right in the end – mostly.

A fine book that explores a lesser known myth cycle, wonderful for fans of mythology and Neil’s previous works.

Booktopia

Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell

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Title: Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

Author: Jill Mansell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia, Headline Review

Published: January 10, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Love is in the air in St Carys, but you’d never know it – the people of this seaside town are very good at keeping secrets…

The man Clemency loves belongs to someone else. She has to hide her true feelings – but when she ropes in an unsuspecting friend to help, wires start to get crossed.

For the first time in Ronan’s life his charm has failed him in winning over the woman he wants. Loving her from afar appears to be his only option.

Belle seems to have the perfect boyfriend, but something isn’t quite right. And now a long-buried secret is slowly rising to the surface.

The truth has a funny way of revealing itself, and when it does St Carys will be a very different place indeed…

~*~

Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay was a book that took me a little longer than usual to get into. It is a genre I don’t really read out of choice, because I often find romance novels  have characters that are too perfect. In this one, there was a decent mix of characters with their own flaws and individual backgrounds. Set in the small town of St Cary’s the story revolves around a group of people who come to find themselves interlinked through each other for various reasons. Everyone has a secret to keep from someone else, some that they are unaware of until the final chapters of the novel.

Stepsisters Belle and Clemency are always at odds: this is no secret in St Cary – they have been since they were teenagers. Yet in a small town where gossip is rife, anything that they try and hide from each other, themselves or anyone else is sure to come out sooner rather than later. It is this gossip that leads to secrets that have been hidden for years to come to the surface, culminating in an all too convenient ending for each character and what they desire – whether it is love, friendship or family.

Marina, the artist is harbouring a secret of her own, and one she has not been able to share at all. Ronan is adopted, and happy, but always wondering about the woman he loves but cannot have, and his birth parents. Kate, the post carrier, has a secret that not even she knows about. And Clemency is in love with the man her sister is with – but does Belle really like Sam?

Each chapter is generally told from a different perspective at first, at least until everyone becomes linked and eventually, they are all consistently thrown together in one way or another, or at least with one or more people at a time. This technique allows the secrets to unfold slowly and to evolve as the characters come together.

Given that this is marketed as romance, or chick lit, the clean and convenient tying up of plots and characters is possibly expected, and the conflicts that lead to that point work. I would have liked a little more conflict though, rather than just everyone happily getting along. Though this isn’t what would happen in the genre, and even though it did not work for me, there are others who will enjoy it. I managed to make it to the end though, and in the end, did find aspects I enjoyed – The friendship between Ronan and Clemency was perhaps my favourite relationship in the book, and Ronan was my favourite character. His story was indeed the most intriguing, and I would have liked to have it explored a little more.

One thing I did like was that not every character got what they wanted immediately – even if it is inevitable that they will in the end – they had to go on their own journeys to get there. Ronan and Kate’s is perhaps the most interesting too – maybe because it is shrouded in more secrecy than the others, and the result come out quite suddenly – a shock that begins each relationship changing and the convenience of everything working out, and leading to a surprise ending for two characters that aren’t as prominent as Ronan, but just as important.

A great beach read, an easy read f you’re in the mood for something light, and the perfect read for people who, unlike me, enjoy this genre all the time.

The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster-Blake

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Title: The Wrong Girl

Author: Zoe Foster-Blake

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin

Published: 12 September, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: Sometimes you don’t know what you want until someone else has it.

 

Lily needs a break. A man break. She hadn’t exactly meant to sleep with her friend, Pete, and she certainly hadn’t expected him to confess his love – for another girl – the next morning. If men were going to behave like such pigs, well, she’d happily take some time out.

 

Besides, her TV career requires all her attention right now. Jack Winters – the gorgeous new talent – is definitely proving a distraction, but Lily is determined to maintain her professional distance, even when Jack starts seeing someone completely inappropriate. It’s only when Lily accepts that good things don’t always come to those who wait and takes a leap into the great unknown that life starts making sense . . .

 

From the bestselling author of The Younger Man and Amazinger Face comes a funny, heartfelt novel about what happens when life, love, work and friendships collide.

 

~*~

The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster-Blake is the book that gave birth to the television show of the same name, starring Jessica Marais in the titular role of Lily Woodward. I watched the television show first, and then read the book – perhaps one of the rare occasions this has happened because I only found a copy of the book after the show had started – and I have enjoyed both incarnations. In the book, Lily and her flat mate, Simone are on a break from men – an agreement that is soon broken, and Lily’s work life and her personal life collide when Simone starts dating Jack Winters, the new chef where Lily works on a breakfast TV show. As her relationship with her best friend Pete crumbles, Lily’s work life begins to change and she finds herself applying for a promotion against several people including Nikkii – two kays, three i’s – the celebrity producer who is more concerned with ensuring she looks her best than putting out a good segment and show.

I enjoyed reading this – it was a light-hearted read that had a bit of romance, but also had conflict between family and friends, and had a focus on Lily and what she wanted throughout the novel – in her career and all areas of her life, not just in getting the man. As I read this after the television show, I was prepared for there to be differences. In the book, the television show is called The Daily; in the show, it is called the Breakfast Bar. There are a few name changes from book to show and character additions, but I feel that these differences are needed. It is not often I say this, because often film and television adaptations of books can get things very wrong and it is part of why I do like to read a book first. In this case though, it is something I was willing to overlook. As a booklover, I often find myself thinking of these changes. With The Wrong Girl, they worked for the television adaptation – as changes can be necessary. The novel and the television show have the same spirit though, and Lily is the same person. Zoe Foster-Blake has created a relatable character for my generation – a character trying to balance career, family, and a social life.

I said before some of the changes from book to television show worked – and that is because of the different audiences. There was one character ‘s arc in the book that surprised me, and the way he was dealt with in the book worked just as well as he does in the show. I don’t often compare the different media of a book and its adaptation but here I felt I should, as I have experienced both. Knowing that The Wrong Girl in its novel form is a stand-alone book should make future seasons of the television show interesting to see where they take the characters and if threads of the plot in the book that weren’t incorporated into season one make it into the next season.

A nice light read, and one that can be picked up at any time, without having to worry about catching up on who is who in the story.

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

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Title: The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence

Author: Jennifer Bell

Genre: Fantasy/Fiction

Publisher: Corgi

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: An uncommonly good and magical tale of Ivy’s adventures in Lundinor, a spellbinding city underneath London where ordinary objects have amazing powers. Welcome to a world where nothing is quite as it seems . . .

Dive head first into the world of Lundinor in this magical adventure story for anyone with a Hogwarts-shaped hole in their life.

When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Returning to Sylvie’s house, they find it has been ransacked by unknown intruders – before a mysterious feather scratches an ominous message onto the kitchen wall. A very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape – only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, where ordinary objects have amazing powers. The forces of evil are closing in fast, and Ivy and Seb must get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.

 

~*~

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence draws the reader in from the first page. With their parents away at work, Ivy and Seb Sparrow are staying with their Granma Sylvie. When an accident lands her in hospital, Ivy and Seb are drawn into a world that lies below London, an uncommon world where common objects do extraordinary things. They are intrigued and scared, and accompanied by Ethel Dread, and Valian Kaye, are thrown into the chaos of a group of uncommoners in search of something that is claimed to be linked to their family – and Granma Sylvie. Soon, Ivy, Seb and Valian have lots of people chasing them, from those who wish to see justice done and find out what really happened on the Twelfth Night 1969, when Granma Sylvie disappeared, to those who wish to harm their family. They only have a few days to fix things and save their family, so Ivy and Seb are up against the clock – an uncommon clock, that is.

The Uncommoners evokes the tradition of hidden fantasy worlds that sometimes mirror our own, or that can be hidden in plain sight such as Narnia, or the wizarding world of Harry Potter, or even Neil Gaiman’s London Below, yet Lundinor still has a charm of it’s own that is separate from each of these other worlds, a place where magic enhances the every day and where you never know what kind of race of the dead you will meet – will they be good or bad, or somewhere in between? Ivy and Seb must navigate this world after being thrust into it, much like the Pevensie children in Narnia or Harry Potter in the wizarding world when he first finds out he is a wizard. I feel like this is just the beginning of a series of books that will hopefully become as well loved as Harry Potter or Narnia – any books that invite children into a magical world are lovely and this is no exception. Whilst it may be in good company with Harry Potter and Narnia, it has distinct differences and the world of Lundinor has a Victorian England feel to it, evoking nursery rhymes, and the old markets and streets that populate the world of Charles Dickens. It is a world that I enjoyed visiting and that I hope to return to soon if this is indeed a series, as it ended with that sort of feeling.

An ideal read for anyone aged nine and older who enjoys fantasy and new worlds and magic, Ivy and Seb are awesome characters and I liked their growth over the novel and the way they cared about each other.