Science Fiction

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The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Published May 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A funny, often poignant tale of boy meets girl with a twist: what if one of them couldn’t stop slipping in and out of time? Highly original and imaginative, this debut novel raises questions about life, love, and the effects of time on relationships.

Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

What did I think?:

I’ve mentioned in a recent post that I’ve started doing a new “thing.” I am currently trying to make my way through a humungous TBR by reading one fiction book, one non fiction book and an old favourite (because the books on my favourites shelves are becoming sadly neglected for all the new, shiny ones!). The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my all-time favourite reads that I gave five stars on when I first read it and was curious to find out if it still remained a favourite or whether I would have to send it on its merry way to the charity shop. Luckily, I adored it and it still remains a firm favourite with that five star rating fully intact, however it came with a host of problems that I had forgotten about and not anticipated. I’m about to get a bit personal now so if that isn’t your bag, you don’t have to keep reading, I won’t be offended, I promise!

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife with a quote from the novel that really resonates with me.

Urrrgh, okay. Here we go. So I’ve alluded in past posts that it’s been one hell of a year. Well, actually one hell of an eighteen months and that’s because in the past nine months alone, I’ve had two miscarriages, three surgeries, a scare when they thought I had a brain tumour (I’m fine!) and now, there will be further investigations in the hospital as this brings my total miscarriage count to three. That’s a very brief summary but things have been absolutely mental and obviously quite traumatic, I haven’t had the easiest time physically or emotionally and my second one was particularly horrific. Is there a point Beth? Does this relate to the book in any way, shape or form? Oh dear, I do love a bit of rambling in my reviews don’t I?! We’ll get to the point in the next paragraph.

Sad but true. And we NEED to start talking about it. 

If you haven’t managed to get round to this gorgeous book yet, let me give you a quick summary. It’s essentially a love story between Henry and Clare. I know, I know, I don’t normally “do” romance but this one captured my heart completely. Henry is a time traveller which he discovered from a very young age. He jumps backwards and forwards in his lifespan and always arrives naked, which as you can imagine, can be quite tricky depending on the location he arrives in! Henry meets Clare as a child during one of his journeys and immediately recognises her as the woman he is married to in the future. Audrey Niffenegger then tells their story which jumps about as Henry travels, from their very first meeting, to when they fall in love and begin a physical relationship, to their marriage and life together as husband and wife. Obviously during this time, Henry is still time travelling but each journey becomes more and more dangerous as they fight to find a doctor that will firstly believe them and secondly attempt to find a cure. Added to this is their desperate fight to have a child which is hampered by Clare suffering multiple, very traumatic miscarriages that makes them think the “time travel” gene is preventing them from having a family of their own and a happy, “normal” ending.

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as Clare and Henry in the 2009 film.

So for some reason, when I first decided to re-read my old favourites, I had completely forgotten about what the character Clare goes through regarding the miscarriages and the struggle to have a child. As soon as I realised and remembered whilst reading, I automatically had a feeling of dread. Could I handle this? Everything was so raw at the time with my own situation, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be strong enough. Happily, I coped just fine and although it was an emotional reading experience and I did shed a few tears, it actually made my re-read even more memorable and special as I could really sympathise with the female lead. Aside from this, The Time Traveler’s Wife is just such a fantastic, exciting and moving read where you become instantly invested in the characters, their story and just hope against all hope for a happy ending for them. I’m not going to give away the ending for those who haven’t read it yet but I think it was pretty damn perfect in my opinion. There was love, there was hope and there was sadness. Everything wasn’t wrapped up with a neat little bow but I definitely felt optimistic for our characters future. Please read this if you haven’t so far, it’s a stunning story that took my breath away both the first and second time I read it and it’s one I’ll certainly be reading again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Fireman – Joe Hill

Published May 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

From the award-winning, New York Timesbestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.

The fireman is coming. Stay cool.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

What did I think?:

I will always look back with happy memories when I think of The Fireman by Joe Hill. My reasons are three-fold! Firstly, it has the accolade of being my first ever buddy read with a fellow blogger, (along with Scythe by Neal Shusterman) secondly I read most of it on a two week holiday in Mexico and thirdly, it was bloody fantastic! I read this novel with the lovely Janel from Keeper Of Pages and we had an absolute ball. I was always super excited to get to a pre-defined checkpoint and find out Janel’s thoughts and I’m delighted that she enjoyed it as much as I did. For her amazing review, please visit her blog HERE. Once again, Joe Hill has smashed it out of the park with another five star read for me (haha, spoiler!) and I truly believe he’s a master of an epic narrative. The Fireman was everything that that word “epic,” means. It very much reminded me of his father Stephen King’s landmark novel, The Stand but obviously, it completely stands on its own as a thrilling, compelling tale that left me with that wonderful feeling of wanting to read just one more page.

The Fireman follows a number of different characters in contemporary times or a time not too far in our future. A horrific virus has plagued the entire world, leaving it’s sufferers speckled with marks almost like tattoos, that they term “Dragonscale.” It leaves the infected at risk of bursting into flame at any moment in their lives and often, without warning. As a result, the population has vastly decreased due to many people just burning to death. Our main character (a woman, hurrah!) is pregnant Harper Grayson who is working at a hospital as a nurse, desperately trying to help the infected. After a while, when everything seems to be falling apart, both in her life and in the world, her hospital burns down and she finds herself also infected and an outsider, seen as a danger from rebel groups who want to rid the world of the infected. She meets up with John, The Fireman who is a member of a strange group of people, also infected who have learned to control the fire within their bodies, keeping them safe. However, the danger is constant and very close and Harper must learn what The Fireman knows if she is to keep both herself and her unborn child safe and well.

Burning – one of the most frightening things I can imagine.

This book is a beast. As in number of pages, physically wise I mean! At nearly 800 pages in paperback, please don’t let the size of it intimidate you. Even though I read this with another blogger and we stopped at various places to discuss, we absolutely flew through this novel in remarkably very little time and it was one wild ride. Janel can probably testify, this book made me feel ALL the emotions. I was terribly angry with some of the characters, which I’m not going to spoil but honestly, they made me furious. Then others, I just felt so touched by. There was Harper, with her no nonsense Mary Poppins manners but who could really hold her own, protect other people and was so incredibly brave that I just felt she was a fantastic role model and female lead.

The inimitable Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins – you WILL do what I say children!!

The plot itself was so brilliant in both the execution and the imagination and preparation that must have gone into it by Joe Hill. This is the kind of book that you have to read on the edge of your seat because relaxing is just not an option, I’m sorry! Both the humour and the journey our characters go through is second to none and although it’s quite rare for a book to make me laugh out loud, I found myself sniggering quite a lot at many points in this story. Personally, I think Joe Hill just gets better and better and does both his father and himself proud with every novel he writes.

Thank you so much to Janel for a brilliant buddy reading experience!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Fireman by Joe Hill was the twenty-ninth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018.

Scythe (Arc Of A Scythe #1) – Neal Shusterman

Published May 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

And now for something a bit different…

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special review on my blog. In April, I had the pleasure of doing my first buddy reads. First, with Janel from Keeper Of Pages where we read The Fireman by Joe Hill (review coming soon but make sure to check out Janel’s review HERE) and secondly, with Stuart from Always Trust In Books where we read the above YA novel Scythe, the first in a fantastic new series.

Stuart and I ummed and aaahed for a little bit about how we wanted to review this book – individually or more of a collaboration and he had the brilliant idea of capturing our Twitter chat and then including it as part of our review. So please find here before our thoughts and feelings about Scythe at the moment of reading it. If you’re worried about spoilers, never fear! Stuart and I deliberately kept the juicier parts of the narrative very vague so if you haven’t read this yet, no big secrets are given away.

What did WE think?:

Stuart: No rush, though I may have to read a little more as it is rather moreish… Even though the central theme is death it is quite bold, interesting and humorous (though it probably shouldn’t be…) 😁

Beth M: Starting it now! Ooh can’t wait. Does it read like YA?

Beth M: Hi Stuart, 100 pages done and ready to chat!

Stuart: I have never done a buddy read so I am not sure how this goes!

Stuart: I am really enjoying Scythe so far. What do you think?

Beth M: Me neither, let’s just wing it and see how it goes! I am so pleasantly surprised by Scythe so far. You know when you read the first line and you think: “I’m going to enjoy this book!” It was completely like that for me. “We must by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.” Excellent stuff.

Stuart: I think the concept of organised death in an immortal world pretty fascinating. I like the fact that the two characters are essentially fighting for a position that neither of them want but they actually need. Who are you rooting for at this moment in time?

Beth M: Ooh, that’s so tough. I really like Citra’s attitude and the way she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks and stand up to Scythe Faraday but I also admired Rowan and the way he stood by the boy in his school who was being gleaned. How about you? I find it very ironic that they’re taking life from people yet are compared to the best of humanity – almost like avenging angels? Crazy!

Stuart: Yeah I thought Rowan’s moment with Faraday and the gleaning was cool and kind. I think Citra has too much to lose over Rowan but we will see. What do you think is going on with those diamond Scythes on the plane?

Beth M: I think they’re rogues! People that have been trained as Scythes and are supposed to be merciful but have gone to the dark side. 😱 Are you finding this book quite funny? I wasn’t expecting to be tickled at all and it’s surprising how amusing I’m finding it. I love that kids have trading cards with all the different Scythes on them! 😆

Stuart: It is funny, I have laughed quite a lot more than probably necessary but it does come across as quite humorous and witty. That was an interesting addition considering how much people intensely avoid the Scythes in general life. I am definitely getting on with Schusterman’s writing and I am eager to read more. Meet back here at 220pp?

Beth M: Great idea. I’m just intrigued about one more thing, what did you think of the whole regeneration after an accident/no disease/resetting your life back to a particular age? I thought that was a really imaginative touch and I’m really interested to see how they might develop this idea in the series.

Stuart: It is the perfect concept to breed an idea like the need for Scythes. It is kind of weird when you have grandfather/grandmother who wants to return to their twenties and how people choose to look old or have weight etc when everyone could just look perfect. It is an interesting angle on humanity and I look forward to seeing how Shusterman can adapt/mess with it in these novels.

Stuart: Page 162 caught me off guard a little! Blimey 😥

Beth M: Haha me too! That’s going to make things a hell of a lot more interesting now. I’m going to read till p170 and then read to our next checkpoint p220 tomorrow if you’ll be ready for a chat then?

Stuart: Probably by about 5ish tomorrow I should be at 220 if you are about then.

Beth M: Yep no problem talk later! 👋🏻

Stuart: Noooo! This is getting out of hand 😣 so much has changed in just a few pages!

Beth M: Tell me about it! I’m at p220 and things have changed so much in the past 100 pages! Huge shocks, big turn arounds in plot and the intrigue behind these Diamond Scythes keeps growing. How are you enjoying the gleaning journal entries?

Stuart: They are cool and quite thought-provoking I think. I like the references to The Age Of Mortality. Yeah I am worried for Rowan but I am not quite at p220 yet so I will get back to reading.

Stuart: Well that section certainly upped the stakes between our lead characters. I am afraid for Rowan at the hands of Goddard but Curie is a fascinating Scythe so it isn’t all bad. What do you think of the story so far?

Beth M: Oh my goodness Stuart, I’m totally invested. I can’t remember the last time a YA novel had this much of an impact on me! I wasn’t sure if we would find out what Citra’s bad thing she did was in the 100 pages we read, but when we did it was awful. I’m so, so worried for Rowan now, I wasn’t expecting that shocker at all, it came completely out of the blue. What do you make of Goddard and his minions? The scenes on the plane and the shopping centre were ruthless!

Stuart: Goddard for me is a difficult character. I hate the fact that he represents everything that Faraday disapproves of but he is an immensely potent character for the narrative and he is making some pretty impressive waves. I don’t read YA but this has caught me. It is slightly too nonchalant about mass, and brutal, murder but that just puts emphasis on how complacent humanity has become towards death. I have so many theories about the outcome of this novel. Who are you rooting for at this moment in time?

Beth M: I definitely agree about Goddard, it’s interesting how he seems to have to many people, especially those in charge in his back pocket. You’re right it is quite nonchalant but maybe that makes it MORE horrifying? The way in which the saleswoman was dealt with in the Conclave was particularly brutal as well I thought. I think at the moment I’m edging towards Team Rowan, although I do want to shake him a tiny bit…he seems quite impressed with Goddard’s material acquisitions. 😕

Stuart: Yeah but what he is considering due to that huge development that we probably shouldn’t talk about (woah!) is pretty noble in a weird way. Could he really do it? Or let it be done to him? Citra is obsessively competitive so I guess she could do it and worry about it later. Do you have any predictions?

Stuart: What do you think about the plausibility of our world being led by something akin to the Thunderhead. An all-powerful cloud of information?

Beth M: I feel like both of them might work together in the end? I’m not sure, they’re both huge characters it will be interesting to see where Shusterman takes it. 🤔 I really admire his nobility whatever happens and you’re right it does seem like Citra might deal with it differently. The Thunderhead is SO very strange to get my head round. The amount of things it controls is mind boggling. I love when The author goes into more details about the biological differences in humans. Like the nanites/added opiates that prevent a person from feeling prolonged pain. Wow!

Stuart: Shusterman has definitely crafted an exceptional vision of humanity. I think it is time we head to the finish. I will see you there 😁

Beth M: 👍🏻

Beth M: Do you want to have one more stop off at p326 or just go straight to the end?

Stuart: The final act starts at p339. Is that okay with you? Have you already continued reading?

Beth M: That’s fine! Reading until p339 or reading till the end? Haven’t started yet, going to continue tomorrow. 😁

Stuart: Yeah read till p339 and then chat 😁 I have reaf about 20 pages more and there is a hilarious quote that I wanted to share with you. Let’s see if you can guess what I am talking about after you continue reading 😂

Beth M: Challenge accepted!!

Beth M: OH MY GOD. p299! p299! 😱

Stuart: I haven’t started reading yet! I am still on p239. Did you laugh at the ‘The Primordial Ooze!’ bit? I did… a lot!

Beth M: Yes! Haha! 😂

Stuart: Wow! What a place to pause 😅 the development of Scythe is superb. There is so much going on but it is fascinating. How is it for you?

Beth M: I’m really enjoying it. I love how everything is so unexpected and the author keeps pulling the rug from under our feet. That part when Citra and Rowan were sparring…I think I did a little gasp out loud! 😂

Stuart: It was a smart move and shows that both of them are still in the game… well… we will see. We are in a major spoiler zone but it is getting so good! I was glad to see what that Esme business was all about. I can’t envision the ending to this novel at all!

Beth M: I was totally shocked at first re: Rowan and then when we saw what was inside his head it made a weird sort of sense. Brutal though! Yes I wasn’t sure what was going on with Esme but I think she’s going to be very important later on. 🤔 I reckon it’s going to end on a major cliffhanger- it’s a series isn’t it?

Stuart: Yeah Thunderhead is already out in the US but in the UK it is released in August. I hope something doesn’t happen that shreds Rowan of what he is desperate to remain. Volta is going to tell him, I am sure of it. Citra is too important! I hope it isn’t cheesy like self-glean and then redemption for nobility etc. But we will see!

Beth M: Yes it would be good if he could surprise us again. I hate it when things are too predictable. 😕 I’m a bit worried about Citra now considering the situation she’s found herself in!

Stuart: Let us continue and see what happens in the finale!

Beth M: 👍🏻

Stuart: I wont be free for a finale for a finale chat until tomorrow evening. Is that okay?

Beth M: That’s perfect. I’ll read the last of it on my commute to and from work and I’ll be all sorted by the time I get home.

Stuart: Tell me when you finished the book! I have so much to talk about!

Beth M: Finished! Oh dear Lord!! 😱 that was the most perfect ending don’t you think?

Stuart: Oh yeah! I was literally cheering after what happened at the monastery. And yes that ending 😁😁😁 what a ride.

Stuart: I am going to have a serious book hangover in the morning 😅

Beth M: Me too! What about that last journal entry as well? That’s really set up an intriguing second book! 🤔 Also a surprise visit from someone I didn’t expect to see? 🤗

Stuart: Yeah I thought that was a good choice. That journal entry was the best! An urban legend for evil Scythes to fear? Epic 😁

Beth M: It was the best ending. I’m a bit scared now for our terrible twosome! What were your favourite parts overall?

Stuart: Definitely the fantastic plot developments, the distinct difference in paths for the two heroes. I enjoyed the character led narrative populated with memorable individuals (both good and bad). I also loved Shusterman’s vision of our ‘perfect’ existence despite the fact it is fundamentally chilling to think we could become that disassociated with death. How about you?

Beth M: 👍🏻 I loved the whole world building. It was so imaginative and well thought out. I rooted for both characters throughout the narrative at different times and there was so many twists that there was never a dull moment. It played out like a film in my head and I constantly wanted to know what was going on!

Stuart: It was incredibly vivid. With so many harsh themes like violence, death, weapons, mass killings etc I was worried about Scythe being too dark. I found it had unsettling moments but mostly it was bold, audacious and really funny at times which was a nice idea. Shusterman does trivialise death in this novel but in doing so highlights the desperate need to hold on to life and the fear of dying. Do you agree?

Beth M: Definitely. I think it also makes Citra and Rowan respect death a bit more through their training. It was shocking how it was relatively easy to come back from though with a few days in a revival centre! 😱 Who do you think changed the most/had the biggest journey through the novel?

Stuart: Well they both changed in massive ways. Rowan going from a lettuce to an urban legend and Citra dropping her small town competitive streak in favour of something bigger to believe in. Yeah the total lack of consequences of death (some even doing on a regular basis) was unsettling. I would have to say Rowan at the moment as I was literally cheering towards the end of his narrative 😅. Who was your favourite mentor Scythe out of the three?

Beth M: Haha he was such a lettuce! 😂 The way he changed was massive, going from not wanting his school friend to be gleaned to….er what he ended up doing in the final test. It was extraordinary. I’m torn between Faraday and Curie, I loved them both and felt a bit sad at their story too. 😉 don’t tell me you like Goddard?? 😆

Stuart: No not at all. I did think he was an excellent presence in the novel to shake it all up but I would go with Faraday as he is old-school and meaningful. Curie was impressive though. Okay let’s change it up! What didn’t you like about this novel?

Beth M: Bloody good question. I would have liked to know more about The Thunderhead as an entity, how it developed, its history and what exactly it controlled. I felt it was all quite vague and was so intrigued about it, especially when it connected with Citra. Although we might get more information in the second book? Hope so! How about you?

Stuart: I hope we find out more as the sequel is actually called Thunderhead 😅. I agree, they show us this hive/cloud/presence that controls the world and Citra gets a chance to utilise its resources (illegally) but what governs the Thunderhead, how does truly keep people in line etc. What I found the most cool yet the most disconcerting is the Killcraft element. How much thought/effort/enjoyment some Scythes get from the vast array of gleaning tools. What I am trying to say is that for the most part I was impressed by how Shusterman portrayed the Scythes but there is a few moments that were a step to far a.k.a Volta and the classroom. Other than that and the fact that, like you say, some aspects are quite shallow right now, this was an impressive read 😁

Beth M: Yes, he manages the shock factor perfectly. At some points it was almost too much. For me, it was Rowan’s friend willing to “splat” himself over and over again. That gave me the chills! Wish we didn’t have to wait until the summer to read the sequel though!

Stuart: Well I have thoroughly enjoyed this co-read so thank you for taking the time to read Scythe alongside me.

Here endeth the Twitter chat.

Final thoughts

Hope you all enjoyed that, it was something a bit different for both Stuart and myself I think, and reading through the chat right now reminds me of how excited we both got over this novel – we certainly had a lot to say about it! I just want to finish up by urging everyone (whether you’re a lover of YA or not) to read this book. It was such a pleasant surprise for me and as I mentioned in the chat, I became completely enamoured with the world-building, the characters, the twists and turns and the constant shocks that Neal Shusterman throws at the reader. It’s not predictable in any sense of the world, the plot is intense and exciting and I haven’t mentioned this to Stuart yet (sorry for springing it on you right now Stu!) but can we PLEASE do this again for the second book in the series?!

The combination of terrific characterisation in our two leads, Citra and Rowan and the development of this strange, imaginative and occasionally cruel world makes this series unmissable in my opinion. I can’t wait to carry on with the next book and I just want to thank Stuart so much for this buddy reading experience, it was fantastic.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

Published March 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.

What did I think?:

I was already predisposed to like this novel after adoring Michel Faber’s (arguably) most famous novel, The Crimson Petal And The White some years ago, which has an immovable place on my favourites shelf. I was so sure that I was going to love The Book Of Strange New Things in turn, that I gave it a spot as the fourth book in my Five Star TBR Predictions post and I’m delighted to confirm that I ended up giving it the full five stars, it deserved nothing less. This is a gorgeous, sweeping, slow-burner of a novel that has elements of science-fiction due to where it is set but is completely literary in its execution. I went into it expecting something similar to The Sparrow, which I also thoroughly enjoyed and essentially, got a much more profound narrative where it seems that every word the author has written has been chosen deliberately and methodically to capture the reader’s attention and hook you for the entire length of the tale.

It’s the story of happily married couple, Peter and Bea who are separated for a time when Peter is chosen by USIC, an elusive and mysterious company who have developed a base on another planet where they are carrying out scientific research into the land and its inhabitants – Oasis and the alien dwellers, the Oasans. The Oasans have had two preachers go missing in strange circumstances while learning about the Christian way of life and have now demanded a new preacher to teach them the ways of the Bible otherwise they will not provide the humans on Oasis with any of the food they so desperately need and that the Oasans are in charge of developing. This is where Peter comes in. He is to be the new preacher and at once, strikes up a friendly relationship with the Oasans, builds a church for them, learns how to recognise each one by their quite strange facial features, teaches them about God and provides a conduit for them to receive much needed medicines from the pharmacist on the base.

Meanwhile, at home in England, Bea isn’t dealing with things too well. Not only is she missing her husband and the strong relationship that they have but the world they know appears to be falling apart. There are environmental disasters, rationing, disease, violence, all things that make her question why her husband would leave her behind when her life is clearly threatened. Meanwhile, on Oasis, Peter is becoming more obsessed with his work with the Oasans, not eating or drinking properly and losing touch with reality on a regular basis. He attempts to keep in regular contact with Bea via a messaging service but before long, their relationship becomes incredibly fractured and unpredictable with both losing faith in each other. With the world that Peter used to know slowly disintegrating and his relationship appearing to go the same way, is there a way back for the couple? Or is preaching the word of God and his new flock all that Peter now wants from his life?

I have to say, when I found out that religion played a heavy hand in this novel, I was intrigued as to how it would come across. I’m not particularly religious, although I love learning about different religions and find the issue of faith quite a fascinating one. Peter and Bea are both very religious people, that is true but I found their stories endlessly interesting, particularly Peter who has quite the murky past before he discovers God. This novel does focus on faith quite a lot, obviously that’s Peter’s job and what he’s sent to Oasis to do but this novel is so much more than just religion. It’s a story about relationships and how the strength of them can be tested if a couple is placed in extreme circumstances without much communication and a hell of a lot of stress. I also loved the otherworldly nature of Oasis, and the strange alien inhabitants that I instantly wanted to know more about whilst always feeling an odd sort of mistrust and unease at the way they lived their lives.

The Book Of Strange New Things is such a unique, brilliant read for anyone with an interest in speculative fiction that is nothing short of literary genius. I may have wanted to throw a few things at Peter whilst I was reading and I was desperate to get more chapters from the perspective of Bea, stuck in England in horrific circumstances but each page I read of this story was perfection and I can’t recommend it enough. It fully deserves a place on my favourites shelf alongside The Crimson Petal And The White and I can’t wait to read something else by Michel Faber soon. I’m devastated to learn that this novel is to be his last as I think the literary world has just lost an enormous writing talent.

With a huge thank you to Crown Publishing (Hogarth) and Netgalley for the review copy.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

Published February 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives – offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

What did I think?:

Every fibre of my being has been wanting to pick this book up ever since I saw the gorgeous cover art on the hardback copy and read the synopsis that mentions Scottish myths/fairytales – er, yes please! This book couldn’t be more “me,” and I was delighted when the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium recommended it to me when Chrissi Reads and I had one of their fantastic reading spas. Yet still I put off reading this book and waited AND waited. Sometimes I worry too much that I’m not going to enjoy a novel as much as I think I should and as a result, delay reading it just in case it doesn’t live up to my very lofty expectations. Well, that’s just silly because once I eventually forced myself to pick it up, I adored it. This whimsical, fantastical tale is perfect for any fans of magical realism but above all, the language is so beautifully perfect that it just flows smoothly over you as you read it, making it a very special reading experience.

Primarily, we are following two main characters – North who works as part of a travelling circus on the seas as the mysterious “bear-girl” and Callenish, an ethereal young woman who carries out burials at sea, helping the dead find rest. The story is set in an almost dystopian universe where the seas have taken over the majority of the planet with only small spots of land remaining. The people who live in this world either live on the sea and are referred to as “damplings” or live on the land as “landlockers,” with the two types rarely mixing together except for business purposes.

We follow North and her bear as she nurses a tremendous secret and carries out her duties as a performer (although taking care of her beloved bear is key). The ring-master Jarrow, has plans for North and she must struggle to convince him that she shouldn’t marry his son whilst trying to avoid enraging Jarrow’s pregnant wife, Avalon who has her own axe to grind. Then we see the supreme loneliness of Callenish, banished to an island by herself for a terrible mistake in her past to carry out the role of Gracekeeper with only her own thoughts and the Graces, birds that she uses in the burying ritual, for company. Both young women have more in common than they think and after a freak storm one night, their destinies are brought together with surprising consequences for all.

I don’t want to give anything else away, I just want to assure you of the beauty of this book. If like me, you love your fairy-tale elements and a quirky, one of a kind narrative, you should really seek out this book. I loved the mixture of dystopia with fantasy and thought each character, even the minor players in the tale were developed so particularly that each one could have had a whole story to themselves. Of course, it was the two main ladies who took the biggest piece of my heart but characters like Avalon, the pregnant wife on a mission to get whatever she wants (never mind anyone else!) and the clowns also made for fascinating reading. Furthermore, the author goes into so much detail about certain events, especially in Callenish’s past that I didn’t expect and made me incredibly emotional. Basically, The Gracekeepers isn’t just a re-run of The Night Circus/Station Eleven, it is a wonderful tale that stands on its own, rightly on its own merits and there are delightful surprises around every corner.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan is the fourteenth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Mini Pin-It Reviews #18 – Four Random Books

Published February 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four random books for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales Of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements – Sam Kean

What’s it all about?:

The Periodic Table is one of man’s crowning scientific achievements. But it’s also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.
We learn that Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues’ wives when she’d invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments. And that Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country and their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

From the Big Bang to the end of time, it’s all in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

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2.) I Am The Messenger – Markus Zusak

What’s it all about?:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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3.) The Moth – Catherine Burns (editor)

What’s it all about?:

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman.

Before television and radio, before penny paperbacks and mass literacy, people would gather on porches, on the steps outside their homes, and tell stories. The storytellers knew their craft and bewitched listeners would sit and listen long into the night as moths flitted around overhead. The Moth is a non-profit group that is trying to recapture this lost art, helping storytellers – old hands and novices alike – hone their stories before playing to packed crowds at sold-out live events.

The very best of these stories are collected here: whether it’s Bill Clinton’s hell-raising press secretary or a leading geneticist with a family secret; a doctor whisked away by nuns to Mother Teresa’s bedside or a film director saving her father’s Chinatown store from money-grabbing developers; the Sultan of Brunei’s concubine or a friend of Hemingway’s who accidentally talks himself into a role as a substitute bullfighter, these eccentric, pitch-perfect stories – all, amazingly, true – range from the poignant to the downright hilarious.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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4.) The Chimes – Anna Smaill

What’s it all about?:

The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.

In the absence of both memory and writing is music.

In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphemy, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN IT REVIEWS: Four Author Requests.

Talking About How To Stop Time by Matt Haig with Chrissi Reads

Published January 25, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.

He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.

The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: We have now read a few of Matt Haig’s books. What did you make of this one compared to this others?
BETH: We certainly have. Previously I’ve read The Radleys, The Humans, Echo Boy and his amazing non fiction Reasons To Stay Alive. I think apart from the latter book I mentioned, which really effected me emotionally, How To Stop Time has to be my favourite thing he has ever written. It’s beautifully poignant, I love the characters, especially our main protagonist Tom Hazard and in almost every paragraph, there was a sentence I wanted to fix in my mind forever.
BETH: I fell in love almost immediately with the character of Tom. How well do you think he was drawn by the author?
CHRISSI: I absolutely loved the character of Tom. I think Matt Haig has done an exceptional job of writing his story and creating such an ever so lovable character. I immediately loved Tom and wanted the best for him. I thought he was such a thoughtful, insightful character who was desperate to find that love he once had, even though he’s governed by the rules by those that look out for him. Truly, Matt Haig has created a stunning character.
CHRISSI: Is Tom Hazard’s condition a blessing or a curse? Is a long life always a good life?
BETH: Great question! I think a lot of people would definitely see Tom’s condition as a blessing. He’s got to see some amazing periods of history and meet some fascinating people, William Shakespeare and Captain Cook to name a few. However, as soon as he joins the secret society for others like him, his life becomes even more restricted in a way. He can only spend eight years in a particular place, he has to carry out an assignment for the society after this time and he can never, ever get too close to people or fall in love. I don’t think long life is always a good life, especially if you’re suffering because of it.
BETH: How did Tom’s relationship with Rose suffer because of his condition?
CHRISSI: Tom’s relationship with Rose was my favourite relationship in this story. I think it suffered because Tom knew inevitably that Rose would pass on and he would have to live life without her. *sob* Tom was caught up on the romance with Rose as he wasn’t supposed to fall in love as per the rules of the Albatross Society. Rose was special to him because of their daughter.
CHRISSI: Matt Haig has said that this book was partly inspired by his own experiences of mental illness. In what way has this shaped the novel? What are the consequences for Tom of having a condition that is invisible to the outside world?
BETH: That’s very interesting and I’m such a strong advocate of speaking out about mental illness. Matt opened up and put so much personal stuff in his non-fiction book Reasons To Stay Alive that it must have been quite a difficult writing process and it was nice to see hints of mental turmoil in How To Stop Time. One of the trickiest things for our character Tom is that he is forbidden to get close enough to people to share what he is going through for fear of what people might do to him and indeed, who would ever believe him? At the same time, he has a horrendous time trying to cope, feeling completely out on his own without anyone to talk to and having to move on regularly to prevent people making comments on his lack of ageing.
BETH: The novel is set amidst multiple time periods, did you have a preference for Tom’s story in the past or the present?
CHRISSI: I don’t know what it was about it, but I preferred reading about Tom’s story in the present. I wanted to see what life was like for Tom now. I also loved him being a teacher, being a teacher myself, I always like to read about teachers. His wealth of knowledge as a history teacher must’ve been incredible! I’m envious! 😉
CHRISSI: What made this book stand out for you?
BETH: It was a lot of things I think. It was the gorgeous writing, the beautiful character development and how Matt Haig made me feel so much for Tom and for his situation. Then there’s the way it was set out as different chapters jumped around hundreds of years in Tom’s life where we get a real sense of how much he has seen and how much he has suffered.
BETH: How would you describe this book to a friend? Would you say this was a historical novel, science fiction, literary fiction or something else?
CHRISSI: Oh my goodness, that’s such a hard question because it really is a mixture of all of those things. It’s historical because of the elements of history within its pages. It’s also science fiction, again, because of some of the content. It certainly reads like literary fiction as well (and literary fiction) is not my thing. The something else? Just Matt Haig. Can he be a genre? No? Well, what I mean is that it’s just so lyrically written and so utterly quotable. It’s moving, unique and makes you think deeply about your own life. Written by a true master of his craft!
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Without a doubt!
BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):
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CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):
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How To Stop Time is the sixth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!