What does Autumn mean to you?
To me, Autumn means ever changing British weather. Will it be freezing today, or a hot summer’s day? Rain coat or tshirt?
The leaves on my garden tree change colour and begin to fall, leaving crunchy crisp foliage on my lawn. Hull Fair comes to town, a European travelling carnival that has been visiting here since 1278 and is just footsteps from my home. The sky around my house is ablaze with lasers and flashing lights, I can hear the music, the crowds and the screams of fair goers in my living room. The night’s sky smells like candy floss and hot dogs.
It’s a wonderful time, and the perfect time to get curled back up after the summer with a good book, and a cup of something warm.
I never blog so much in the summer, owing to the fact that I am trying to make the most of the outdoors as we don’t usually have much of the sunshine over here in the UK.
I spent my summer by the beach eating icecream, picking strawberries in fields, trying new and interesting restaurants that keep popping up in my city, and I also hid away in a gorgeous cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for a few days. It’s been a lovely summer. This year however I was also fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in my garden reading.
Since my last post in June, I have read three books, one of which I’m going to share with you today. The other two books I have read are ‘The One’ by John Marrs, a sci fi yet plausible, thrilling novel following the lives of subscribers to ‘Match Your DNA’. Think match.com meets DNA testing; a modern spin on dating, by finding your ‘true soul mate’ via a match in DNA.
Another novel I read was one that I expect is on most people’s reading lists (if you haven’t done so already!): ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr. Now initially I had intended to share my thoughts on this novel with you my lovely readers, however the deeper I got into this 500 page novel, the more I realised that I couldn’t. The characters became so important to the story and the story so thought provoking, that it later felt wrong to examine them in detail and to really analyse the story. Perhaps it’s because I visited Auschwitz many moons ago and one side of the story focuses on a young man in the German Army, or maybe it’s just because some books just aren’t meant for reviews and stay rather personal. This was one of them. I’m not saying it’s perfect, and in my opinion it didn’t need to be 500 pages long, but I would still recommend to read it and to cherish doing so if you do.
Finally, I was a very lucky girl to have flown all the way to Rhodes for a week long Vacation with one of my dearest friends, to a beautiful hotel with the most stunning sun terrace. You’ll be pleased to hear that we spent our days here napping, eating icecreams and of course, reading.
It was on this very roof terrace that I read the second novel from the international best selling Author Natasha Pulley, ‘The Bedlam Stacks’. And what an adventure it took me on, whilst laying in that midday sun.
‘THE BEDLAM STACKS’ BY NATASHA PULLEY
The purchase of this novel was one I’m unlikely to forget. I waltzed into my local Waterstones ready to do my usual ‘OOh’ and ‘AAh’ of pretty much every book I see. However when my eyes reached the cover of this book, it was a real gasp. Not only can you see that the cover is beautiful, it is gold, blue and white so really stands out on the shelf, but what really got me excited was that the edges of the pages of the book are one of my favourite colours, bold blue.
I read the blurb and ran to the till, book in hand. It took everything not to run up the stairs to the coffee shop and begin reading right there and then in the book shop. It sounded so different, adventurous and exciting, which isn’t something I can say I believe I’ve read since reading during English class at School.
This one is definitely all about the story.
So let’s get to it. We find ourselves in the 1800s, following the tale of Merrick Tremayne, a single, British Botanical expert who lives with his brother and his dog in a family mansion. A mansion that is dilapidated and run down, and with seemingly very little to fill Merrick’s days. His father died some time ago, and his Mother resides in a mental health facility. Merrick damaged his leg some time ago, and groundsmen do the majority of the labour at the property, but that does not stop Merrick in his love of Botanics. It’s through time spent in the garden, that Merrick feels that something strange is happening, involving a statue his father brought home from his travels some years ago. He begins to worry that his leg is not his only ailment.
One day, Merrick finds his world taking a more adventurous turn, when he receives a request from his old employer, the India Office, to join a quest with his old navy friend Clem, to the deepest and darkest of Peru. Their mission is to return to Britain with clippings of a very protected tree called a Cinchona found only in Peru. This tree can cure Malaria, an issue rife throughout India, which is why the India Office are so desperate to procure some clippings.
Merrick’s issue of course (not only the danger involved should they be caught), but is in the fact he has mobility issues and is not so suited for wild and dangerous adventures as he once was. If Clem and Merrick are caught by the locals who control the trees, they will undoubtedly be killed.
Unfazed, Clem and Merrick begin their mission and we as readers tag along, meeting the characters and obstacles they encounter along the way. What is most interesting, is that our main characters change so much along the journey, as they encounter different languages, cultures and people, and of course, The Bedlam Stacks. Merrick’s character in particular deepens, as his childhood and his memories of his adventurer late Father resurface, bringing with it a recognition and appreciation of a widely unknown foreign language, a unique culture and it’s people. His home starts to make more sense to him, including the mind of his troubled mother.
Clem and Merrick’s friendship changes over the course of their journey. At first it feels strong built upon missions in the Navy, yet Merrick reveals later in the tale how he and Clem first met, from which it seems strange to build a friendship from and was not what I expected from Clem.
Clem, strong, able bodied and with a lion’s heart attitude, would be expected to handle the adventure around Peru with ease and grace. However what we find is quite different. Clem’s real personality is revealed as he struggles to maintain his compassion towards his struggling friend, and of the people he meets in the Peruvian mission colony they later find themselves stuck in. He begins to come across as arrogant and rude. These personality traits only come back to bite him.
Merrick on the other hand, is able to handle different people and their cultures with much more intellect and respect. As such he mingles well (even as a Westerner) into the colony, gaining a close friendship with one key character in particular. Raphael, introduced to us at the beginning of the tale as a quiet, perhaps dangerous, strong brute, becomes crucial to the adventure. With shock due to the circumstances in which we are first introduced to Raphael and with that particular character description, we later learn that Raphael is in fact a Priest.
As Raphael and Merrick become closer and share their background and family history, they find that they have more in common than would ever be expected between one man from the East and another from the West. Merrick also learns here the truth about the nature of his Mother’s ‘mental instability’ and his worries about the statue at home. Fate really plays a part here and made me wonder if fate in our lives is fact or fiction.
Reader Question: What do you think about fate? Do you think it has a role to play in your life? Do you think it has already?
For around half of the book, we are kept in a state of realism, security issues and matter of fact adventure. However when we begin to learn about Raphael and the colony, the genre of the book widens, leaping into folklore, religion, lost time and magic. The transition is surprisingly smooth, owing to the excellent descriptions and writing style of Pulley, as the scenes are well crafted and believable.
Our characters at first resist what is happening to them, putting Western thought process and logic to what they see. It really is a tale of East meets West, and the difference in belief systems and religion is so contrasting.
Although….I’m not going to tell you what happens of course, I’m not here to spoil books for you!
What is really obvious is that Pulley went to a lot of extensive effort to learn about Peruvian heritage, folklore and language. I obviously do not know any better but what is being explained by the characters really feels authentic and genuine and the descriptions are painted perfectly, to transport you as the reader into the scene alongside the characters. Magical really for someone who has never travelled to the edge of the Amazon to feel like they are wading through trees in poor light lit only by Pollen.
The book left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling about friendship, fate, magic and history, and I felt like I’d been on an adventure from my sunbed. I particularly liked the character development, and I thought the writing style was polished, articulate and very clever. I do however think that the descriptions were a little too repetitive. There was lots of talk and description about pollen and pollen trails, and I didn’t feel that this was overly necessary after a few scenes at the colony.
I also felt like the characters remained too long in one place; strange for a mission where lives are at stake. They are meant to be blocked by a line of salt and the folklore that comes with it, but I found it odd that they stayed with the colony so long given the mission. I also found that Merrick’s disloyalty to Clem really came from nowhere. Knowing the family situation for Clem, I thought Merrick came across as very shallow and rather cold hearted and from what we knew of him, I didn’t understand why he would purposely do this, knowing the outcome.
In addition, Merrick’s brother was almost a non-character, and I really didn’t understand why he was written into the story.
It is of my opinion that characters should have a purpose to a story and if there is no purpose, then they don’t need to be there.
Throughout the book, there are a lot of flashbacks to help us to understand Merrick. This strategy I absolutely loved! Within one particular flashback, we learnt about how Merrick got his leg injury. This part of the tale I found truly fascinating. The leg injury was purposely caused (I won’t say by whom or by what!), but it was done to later save Merrick’s life. I adore tiny jigsaw piece puzzles into stories like this. Characters that are barely mentioned and their actions creating the main back story and outcome for the novel. It’s wonderful writing and shows clear planning and structure. This is what I mean by Characters with purpose.
In saying all of this however, we flash forward at the end of the book by 20 years, and nothing about Merrick or his home life has changed. Is he really that dull?! I feel not. There’s either something about him that we don’t know, or we’re looking at two different characters. Would adventurer Merrick not have improved his home life or that of someone near to him after seeing the struggles of those in the Mountains and of learning what he did about his Mother? I think he would have taken more action to right some wrongs at least.
The story on the whole did have lots of twists and turns but in a calm manner. It was magical and more importantly unpredictable. The story did not turn out how I expected at all, and nor did the characters. I liked that this book was different to what I’ve read in the past few years, and I really suggest you add this beautiful book to your collection. It really is a classy read that will transport you into a land where anything can happen.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 4/5
The book is such a different genre to what has been widely written at the moment and for this alone its worth exploring if this is outside of your usual reads. It is a perfect balance of science fiction/folklore, magic and history, that I think it will reach out to a wide audience. It is polished and a beautiful book to have in your hand and one I definitely should be on your Autumn reading List. I do think it takes a good imagination and a lot of patience in some sections, but you will be rewarded and I think you’ll find it worth the money. Plus – it looks fantastic on your book shelf, and your Gram.
Where to Buy:
WASHED DOWN WITH:
No Teas to report on this month as I’ve mainly spent my time drinking coffee at brunch and trying lots of cocktails. Well, whats a girl to do in summer! I’ll be finding some beautiful teas to share with you on my next review, as we get snuggled up in our blankets in these colder months.
Please share and add your comments below about your thoughts on my questions about fate and character importance, and what you think is important to a book. I’m also really interested to hear about what you’re reading now and what’s on your list for Autumn!
My aim is to share great books with the world and to get everyone taking some down time away from our computer screens and stresses of life. I hope this has encouraged you to do so and I hope you enjoyed this review.
For updates on my current reads and adventures, please follow me at @Papyrusandpeppermint on Instagram, and also Papyrus and Peppermint on Facebook. I’d love to hear what you are reading too!! Tag the blog for your chance to be featured on the next post or use hashtag #papyrusandpeppermintblog
Enjoy your October everyone, and see you soon.