Pulp by Robin Talley

Published: 13 November 2018 (print)/13 November 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HQ Young Adult/Harlequin
Pages: 406/11 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: Stephanie Cannon
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favourite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

I loved this story. I loved how Talley created these two lives that shone on the page so well and their bravery and determination, passion and heart comes through. Talley has been remarkably clever with this story; dual narrators but if often feels like there are four. You get the story of Janet and Abby, but you also get each of their stories that they’re writing. We get snippets of the lives of their fictional characters and it was a great way to include each story and reflect on how they gained inspiration and changed their ideas. Told across two different eras it blends together beautifully and seamlessly, interconnecting and mirroring but each voice and experience unique.

The similar experiences mirrored back sixty years apart was clever and Talley has done a great job in cementing us in each era without needing to go into heavy detail or description. Fashions are included naturally; jobs, society and the general societal beliefs at the time comes through in dialogue and character actions and activities and this helped keep the story about the characters. Talley doesn’t set things up so we know we’re in the 50s, aside from the date to show a change we’re thrown right in and pick it up almost immediately based on the writing. It’s almost as if we’ve started reading right in the middle of Janet’s life, already playing out as we’ve arrived. The different worlds but same experiences are a great reminder of common experience and that young love, family drama, and outside forces happen all the time.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the narrative because learning more about pulp stories and how and why they were created was a fascinating story to be woven into the fictional lives. Janet and Abby both offer perspectives about its purpose from both consuming it, as well as discovering it historically and seeing the evolution. It was a great way to weave in the romances and the friendships, as well as the personal dramas. They provide an escape, an outlet, and inspiration for both girls and their lives.

Nothing in this story felt like it was wasted. Every action, scene and conversation had intention and whether that was to bring depth to friendships, explain about lives and circumstances or the history of LGBTQIA struggles. The world that Janet lives in isn’t fun and even seeing the contrast with Abby’s where it’s more open and accepting, where her friends are out and proud with their various identities, the sharp contrast back to Janet where even the idea of holding another girl’s hand in a certain way would be enough to endanger you is shocking as you forget it wasn’t that long ago and is still happening today no matter how far we’ve come.

There’s so much going for this novel – the characters are likeable, it puts you into the world and each character feels established and unique. The story is slow but it builds into a story that is enriching and fascinating and one that was full of little surprises.

You can purchase Pulp via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Changeless (#2) by Gail Carriger

Published: 1st April 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Orbit
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
Genre: Steampunk/Paranormal
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Alexia Maccon, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears; leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. So even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

  The delightful Alexia is back, now married and now in charge of an entire wolf pack. I was glad to see Carriger hasn’t lost any of her charm and wit in her writing as this story is just as fabulous as the first.

The relationship between Alexia and Connall moves past the frustrated acquaintances and into frustrated newlyweds which feels natural and fitting. I love how both Alexia and Connall can love each other but be infuriated by one another, more so Connall than Alexia, though now that she is living with the pack there are a few more things to frustrate her. This story also brings to light some more of Carriger’s werewolf mythology and we see more intricately how the pack operates. We are introduced to new names and faces but the familiar faces remain and the pack becomes an extension of the main characters.

I loved the mystery Carriger has presented because it’s a fascinating exploration of how this society operates and how much the supernatural citizens contribute and rely on the existing structures. The mystery is only one of many things revealed and unravelled in this book. We gain a better understanding of Alexia’s preternatural abilities and a better look at Lord Maccon’s own supernatural and family history. I liked the pace Carriger has taken for this story because it is a decent time frame and also one that is chaotic, dangerous and filled with the wit and humour, not to mention the incredible inventions and contraptions, I’ve come to love and expect from her. One thing she does well is have multiple plots running that raise their head at various times as the need occurs. It also plays into the natural feeling of the story and the realism, if one can call it that, of this world. It is believable and the pacing and events reflect that.

There is an excellent hook at the end which raises all the questions and sparks a lot of intrigue, Carriger knows how to get you leaping into the next book. Even though I fell deeply in love with this series from the start, the more I learn and is uncovered as I read the more I adore it. I am fascinated by Carriger’s creativity, but more so I love how complicated yet simple and well-functioning this society is. This alternate reality, steam punk world sounds marvellous and it is a joy to read about a new interpretation of the werewolves/vampire myth as well as a new history of our own time.

You can purchase Changless via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Emmie and the Tudor King (#1) by Natalie Murray

Published: 11th June 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Literary Crush Publishing
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Historical
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

One moment, Emmie is writing her high school history paper; the next, she’s sitting with a gorgeous 16th century king who vacillates from kissing her to ordering her execution.

Able to travel back to her own time, but intensely drawn to King Nick and the mysterious death of his sister, Emmie finds herself solving the murder of a young princess and unravelling court secrets while trying to keep her head on her shoulders, literally.

With everything to lose, Emmie finds herself facing her biggest battle of all: How to cheat the path of history and keep her irresistible king, or lose him—and her heart—forever.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review

The premise of an alternative Tudor history drew me straight into this book. What if Queen Elizabeth 1 had children, and what if one of those became King? This is the story Murray has so skilfully created.

Filled with suspense and danger, the unpredictability of a King’s temper and a lawless world, there is a lot to grab your interest. The risks Emmie takes in befriending the King and his court is paramount, but seeing these names and faces as real people and not just words in a history book have emotional effects.

Emmie isn’t presented as a history fanatic who knew every person and event that she encounters, a choice which I appreciated. The common knowledge exists of these figures but there is also the 21st Century advantage of the internet which plays a role in learning more of these characters.

The secrets and surprises revealed in this are amazing and your brain works overtime trying to solve not only the main mystery, but all the other little mysteries as well. I loved that it’s a story nestled in the real Tudor history but is still a story so new and unique on its own. One book in and I am already curious to find out the ongoing effects of this insertion into history, about the future lines and events affected as a result.

It was interesting because while history and the future shouldn’t be changed because what has happened has happened, with this being an alternate history already I almost rooted for history and the future to change because it felt like it didn’t matter as much.

The dark side of historical amusements means there’s such things as bear baiting, cock fights, and public executions that happen with this story, but there is a romantic approach to the era as well which Murray brings out. Something which is no small feat given it’s a bit hard to fathom with the lack of hygiene and proper medicine, foul streets and other Tudor issues. But this is also a world being viewed through the eyes of the court and not the common citizen.

Murray captures the Tudor 16th century clothing and lifestyle without it becoming heavy with content. I understood the mood and the dangers without Murray needing to flood it with references, and the language balances between modern and Tudor. While you can argue Emmie words and language may see her as more out of place and strange, Murray works with this well and Emmie does well to manage, 16th century English not completely foreign to our own language. Though I did feel like Murray lessens the old English a bit as the story goes on.

I am excited to dive into book two because Murray leaves us with an exciting conclusion and after all the excitement that has come before I am keen to return to both these worlds and see where Murray’s imagination will take us next.

You can purchase Emmie and the Tudor King via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Lords of St Thomas by Jackson Ellis

Published: 10th April 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Green Writers Press
Pages: 180
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

In the Mojave Desert, at the southern end of the isolated Moapa Valley, sat the town of St. Thomas, Nevada. A small community that thrived despite scorching temperatures and scarce water, St. Thomas was home to hardy railroad workers, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, and a lone auto mechanic named Henry Lord.

Born and raised in St. Thomas, Lord lived in a small home beside his garage with his son, Thomas, his daughter-in-law, Ellen, and his grandson, “Little” Henry. All lived happily until the stroke of a pen by President Coolidge authorizing the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. Within a decade, more than 250 square miles of desert floor would become flooded by the waters of the Colorado River, and St. Thomas would be no more.

In the early 1930s, the federal government began buying out the residents of St. Thomas, yet the hardheaded Henry Lord, believing the water would never reach his home, refused to sell. It was a mistake that would cost him―and his family―dearly.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review

This may only be a quick read but it is an engaging and captivating story. It crosses two points in time, when our narrator Henry is a young boy and when he is an old man. These two points in time alternate but the story mainly focuses on the earlier time period. I enjoyed this change because from the opening I was expecting the story to go another way and I am glad it went in the direction it did.

The story is about home and the past. It is also about family. Ellis has written a fascinating story that questions all of this and weaves it together with style and seamlessness. The two periods rest side by side and Ellis uses the narrator’s voice to give us all the information we need without heavy exposition. Instead it is woven through and details are revealed at intervals when they are pertinent. Little Henry tells the story of his childhood living in St Thomas and the changes that come about when there is a threat to the town with the construction of the new dam. As a non-American I was interested in the history the story shows about the development of the dam and even though Ellis has fictionalised it, there are pictures included at the end that show where his inspiration came from.

This story could easily have been longer but I am glad Ellis has kept it short. It has a lot more power and through the narrative and dialogue all the information we need has been included without it become too wordy. The character development is all there and through Henry’s reflections and observations we gain more insight into characters whose voices we don’t often get to hear. Ellis shows well and doesn’t often tell and even with his few observations there is a lot said in a few words. The imagery is also wonderfully vivid and I could picture everything Henry is telling us, from the small run down school room to the encroaching water and hard dry desert.

There is heartache and mystery but there is also a bittersweet reality that I really liked. The hardships the family endures and the drama around their lives takes it toil but there is also strong family bonds. The novel takes place across the decades of the 20th century and seeing the changes from the 1930s to the 1990s and beyond not only shows to contrast in the environment, but also in the progress of humanity and it is a reminder of what life was like in those early years. It certainly has a lot of poignancy and intrigue and to capture all that in 180 pages is a wonderful feat.

You can purchase Lords of St Thomas via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3 July 2017 (print)/ August 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 464/19 hours
Narrator: Juliette Burton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

Once again Forsyth has written a beautiful book that is filled with beauty, history, and heartache. I had been looking forward to reading this book and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The lives of the Pre-Raphaelites is tragic and inspiring, and to be swept up into their world was a vivid adventure.

This retelling of Sleeping Beauty explores the life of the famous artists who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelites. It was an area of history and art I knew little to nothing about but discovering their story thorugh this book was delightful.

Forsyth brings their stories to life with such detail and expression, and I marvelled at how these characters are more than character, they are people from history who contributed to the world and who brought their art and passion to the public.

What I found absolutely marvellous is that I could look up the halls of the Oxford Union Debating Chamber and see the murals in their completion whilst listening to the story about their creation. Seeing the completed works of these historical figures and putting real faces to the names is a delight that historical fiction can bring, especially when Forsyth does such a wonderful job keeping it as close to historically accurate as possible, with her own fairy tale mastery woven through.

The narration shifts between all of the character offering up a rounded perspective of their experiences and characters. The passion of Rossetti and the tragedy of Lizzie, as well as the brilliant and fascinating men and women who surrounded them is fascinating to read about. The story moves slowly but not dully, the exploration of character and the creation of art is fulfilling. With multiple characters to explore Forsyth balances their introductions and their voices very well, each having depth and complications that make you understand who they are and who they were.

I was fascinated about how so many known people from history connected to these characters, Kipling and Bernard Shaw all connect with these artists and Forsyth has blended their stories together beautifully. This is a wonderful skill I have noticed in all of Forsyth’s books. She seamlessly includes a range of information into the story that act like natural conversation and narrative without ever falling into the exposition chunk trap, which makes for a wonderful read but also help define the period and inform readers of the historical aspects of the story. Details about the movements of characters and filling in events that occur during the skipped time fall into place. I often got caught up in the story that when a character mentions people passed away years ago or were married for a certain amount of years I realised how much time had passed and it amazed me that it felt so right to just go on this journey with these character across their entire lives.

Forsyth covers numerous decades over the lives of these artists and their families. Even in the short space of reading this book I felt nostalgic, as these great figures entered their older age and they themselves were reminiscing about their youth. I recalled the chapters when they were young and carefree. I felt like I had gone on this journey with these artists and I empathised with them and pitied them.

When characters like Georgie and Ned reminisce about being young I thought back to the chapters where they were so carefree and idealistic, painting the mural and found myself becoming wistful sad and nostalgic alongside them. It hadn’t been 30 years for me, but I had been on this journey of their lives and seen their struggles and achievements and I wanted to mourn for them and celebrate them in a small way.

Burton does a wonderful job narrating the audiobook. I could picture everything with Forsyth’s words and Burton distinguishes these characters and brings their personalities off the page. Listening to the audio also gave the sensation of storytelling, I was being told a story about these grand artists from long ago and I loved listening to Burton tell me about their lives.

I implore you to look up their artwork when you have finished reading this book, I loved that I could see the finished product of a piece I’d only read about, or see the models that Forsyth describes in her story. It is a benefit of historical fiction and with a wonderful historical fairytale as beautiful as this it was a delight to relive it in a new way.

You can purchase Beauty in Thorns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

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