Tag Archives: general fiction

Picture it… Peru 1859

bedlamstacksPicture it, Sicily… but not really. Really it’s South America – Peru in fact, circa 1859, the home of some very important trees that are the source of quinine, a treatment for malaria.

The Bedlam Stacks opens in a run down estate in Great Britain. Merrick and his dog are wandering the grounds. He thinks he sees one of the statues move.  A tree explodes. His brother questions Merrick’s sanity.

Merrick is approached to go on an expedition to Peru to get some cuttings of trees that produce quinine by the India Office. India is in the throes of a major malaria epidemic. Faced with the decision to stay in England and work as a man of the cloth or have one last adventure, Merrick chooses adventure. He and a close friend ship off to Peru in search of the trees they need. It’s awkward and dangerous because of his injured leg, his friend’s altitude sickness, and the fact that often expeditions in search of the cinchona trees end up dead or missing.

The characters are well-developed and flawed. No one is perfect reflecting the real world. Merrick has physical flaws and some mental ones that are revealed as the story goes on. His friend Clem makes me think of the phrase “ugly American” even though he is quite British. Raphael is multilayered. He comes across at first as only a bit of a scoundrel. Only later is he revealed for what he truly is. I also liked the minor character of Inti. She was a take charge kind of woman and accomplished in spite of being physically handicapped.

The story has elements of magical realism. There are, for example, statues that move, lamps that are powered by glowing pollen and bits of clockwork, and exploding trees among other things.

The plot jumps around a little in place and time. The sections are clearly labeled though, so it’s not hard to follow. The story of how Merrick’s leg got hurt is interesting. And it goes to further characterize him as well. All the parts ultimately blend together. Everything is useful and not as extraneous as it might seem at first.

The way the community of Bedlam functions is interesting as well. There is a salt and bone border between the community and the jungle. Merrick and Clem are told that no one passes over the boundary from the community without risking certain death.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. Overall it’s well written both plot wise and character wise. It’s a good book for people who enjoy a bit of an adventure story with some fantastical elements.

Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley is due out August 1, 2017 from Bloomsbury USA.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions herein are my own and freely given.



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“Backpacking Bridget Jones” Does Chile

destination_chileDestination: Chile by Katy Colins is book 3 in the Lonely Hearts Travel Club series.

Spoiler Alert:

If you haven’t read book one and two in the series, the reviews for book 3 contain at least one big spoiler. Just letting you  know so you can stop now if you want. The book can be read as a stand alone, but I’ve been informed that you can get a deeper understanding of the characters if you start with book one.


Georgia Green and her beau Ben are invited to travel to Chile to participate in a television program called Wanderlust Warriors. The program is to follow several couples who work together as they face challenges. The winning couple receives a nice amount of money, 25,000 pounds, to spend as they see fit.

From the beginning, Georgia and Ben aren’t quite on the same page although they seem to be getting along swimmingly. They work together days at their travel agency and spend their down time together as well.

The circumstances Georgia faces over the course of the story are reminiscent of things Bridget Jones might encounter from the scene in the airport bathroom to the camping scene and many in between. One reviewer has referred to Georgia as the “backpacking Bridget Jones.”

It’s not all laughs. Like any good story, it has its highs and lows. It has conflict, resolution, and character growth. There are elements that increase suspense and make you wonder what the ultimate ending of the book will be. Will Georgia and Ben’s relationship survive the organized chaos of this competitive trip?

I know the review has been a little vague, but I didn’t want to give out many spoilers.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It’s well written and entertaining. If you enjoy romantic comedies, then this might be a good book for you.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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You Can Catch More Flies with Honey

vinegar girlKate Battista is feeling stuck. Stuck in her job where she is an assistant teacher for a preschool class adored by the students and frequently in trouble with the parents because she is honest and slightly inept socially. Stuck at home where she takes care of the household duties for her eccentric, widowed father and obnoxious teenage sister.

Now, Kate is in a pickle. Her father feels he is close to a breakthrough in his research and his assistant’s visa is about to expire. Father cooks up a scheme for Kate to marry Pyotr so he can stay in the country. He expects Kate to just go along with it, but of course she doesn’t. How could she just agree to marry a stranger? Her father says, “We can fix that.” And arranges for Pyotr to come by the house and see Kate. Besides being eccentric, her father shares one thing with Pyotr and Kate – they are all socially a little awkward. Will Kate agree to marry Pyotr? Would it be for in name only or would it be more? Will he come to love and value her for her honest and sometimes sharp tongue?

This is a reworking of The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare. Instead of multiple suitors, Kate has the one. And her tongue while acidic, isn’t quite as bad. As I read it, I could picture it happening more in the middle of the twentieth century than in the 21st. It has a good pace to it. There are humorous moments and plot surprises as well.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a relatively short novel. It makes a good summer read. I would recommend it for people who enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew or any of its variations. But, you don’t have to be a fan of the tale to enjoy the reworking. This book was released June 21, 2016 from Hogarth.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion.

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Unusuals, Dozens, and a Plague

magruderscuriosityIt’s Coney Island 1904 and Kitty’s mother has disappeared from their hotel while Kitty went to fetch medicine for her. Kitty is alone, penniless, and has no place to stay until conman Archie introduces her to the other Unusuals at Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. And so we get to meet Zeph who has no legs and pretty much runs Magruder’s, P-Ray the boy who tends to the flea circus, Rosalind – half man/half woman act, and Timur a brilliant scientist who lives upstairs at the Cabinet to name a few.

The Unusuals agree to help Kitty even though she is one of the Dozens – so called normal people. A sickness is spreading across the island. It’s definitely worse than the flu. It’s killing people seemingly randomly and without mercy. The end result is a quarantine of Coney Island cutting them off from the rest of New York. What will become of them all?

The characters are well developed and interesting to read about. They all are confronted with the plague and handle it in different ways. Some rise to be better, while others sink lower. My favorites are Kitty, Nazan, and Zeph. Kitty and Nazan were two of the Dozens. Zeph is an Unusual . It’s interesting to watch how some of the Dozens become used to the Unusuals and start to see past their appearances and behaviors. I very much enjoyed the story and wished for a better outcome for several of the characters. It definitely has its dark moments.

This is not a story for children. It is very much an adult story and an excellent one at that. It deals with adult themes such as how people behave when they are cut off from the general populace with disease running rampant, racism, and differences in class.

I gave this book 4 stars based on the characterization, the plot, and pace. Even with the dark moments, it is a good read. There is more information about the book and its inspiration on the author’s website. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood was published June 7, 2016 by Sourcebooks Landmark.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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On the Road with Buddha – a review of Dinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Merullo_Dinner_buddha_8_14.inddDinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo is essentially a novel that also has spiritual lessons that are an important part of the plot.

Otto Ringling is a sort of Everyman representing the seeking, skeptical human. Volya Rinpoche is a world renowned spiritual teacher and Otto’s brother-in-law. Together they travel around what I think of as the American West. They see both what are considered the great places to go sight-seeing and the more ordinary places that people live most likely getting there via a meal at a local restaurant.

Along the way, Otto is exposed to many lessons of a spiritual nature. Some are easier for him to swallow than others. The hardest one of all may be that his niece might be the next Dalai Lama. To be honest, the author almost lost me on that one. But I realized that wasn’t as important as Otto’s reaction to the news.

This is the third book in this series. Breakfast with Buddha is the first one and is described by the Boston Globe as “Enlightenment meets On the Road.” I think this book could basically be described the same way.The actual places they travel aren’t the same, but the idea of all this change happening on a road trip is the same.

It took me a while to read the book because I was trying to absorb the lessons to a degree as I read. It could be read straight through without doing that, but it seems you would miss out on a big part of the book that way. Or if you want the lessons after absorbing the fiction, you could always go back and read it again.

I gave this book 3 stars. I liked it. I enjoyed the story for the most part. I didn’t like the aimless feel to some of the traveling around. It felt plotless in those parts and slowed down my reading. The spiritual lessons continued during those parts, but the sense of them having a destination faltered.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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