buddy read

All posts tagged buddy read

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History – Bill Schutt

Published July 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism–the role it plays in evolution as well as human history–is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we’ve come to accept as fact.

In Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural Historyzoologist Bill Schutt sets the record straight, debunking common myths and investigating our new understanding of cannibalism’s role in biology, anthropology, and history in the most fascinating account yet written on this complex topic. Schutt takes readers from Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, where he wades through ponds full of tadpoles devouring their siblings, to the Sierra Nevadas, where he joins researchers who are shedding new light on what happened to the Donner Party–the most infamous episode of cannibalism in American history. He even meets with an expert on the preparation and consumption of human placenta (and, yes, it goes well with Chianti).

Bringing together the latest cutting-edge science, Schutt answers questions such as why some amphibians consume their mother’s skin; why certain insects bite the heads off their partners after sex; why, up until the end of the twentieth century, Europeans regularly ate human body parts as medical curatives; and how cannibalism might be linked to the extinction of the Neanderthals. He takes us into the future as well, investigating whether, as climate change causes famine, disease, and overcrowding, we may see more outbreaks of cannibalism in many more species–including our own.

Cannibalism places a perfectly natural occurrence into a vital new context and invites us to explore why it both enthralls and repels us.

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 with Stuart from Always Trust In Books where we read the YA novel Scythe, the first in a fantastic new series. Check out my review HERE and Stuart’s review HERE. We both had a great time doing it and decided for our next buddy read to read something a bit different – in this case, a popular science book all about cannibalism. I realise I might have lost some readers right now, haven’t I?!

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 Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History 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?:

Beth: Okay I’ve just finished Chapter Five, let me know your thoughts whenever you’re ready! 🤔🤗

Stuart: I’ve been looking forward to teaming up with you again for a read and here we are! What a topic for discussion we have ourselves, cannibalism. The first 5 chapters were both immensely graphic and incredibly informative. I am enjoying Bill Schutt’s writing style, though it is slightly information dense, and his insights into insect, fish and mammal cannibalism was fascinating if not slightly hard to process. I will never look at Cupid the same again. How are you finding this read?

Beth: I’m really enjoying it Stuart, as you say it’s incredibly informative and as a huge animal lover this was always going to be an interesting read for me. It did take me about two or three chapters to really get into it and get used to his writing style but now I feel fully invested. I’m loving finding out facts I wasn’t aware of about cannibalism in the natural world – I mean the dedication of that mother spider was crazy wasn’t it? Are you enjoying the illustrations?

Stuart: The illustrations are great if not a little unsettling 😂. Yeah I know what you mean about getting into Schutt’s rhythm. I was surprised how common cannibalism is in the wild and what it truly takes for animals and creatures to cross that line. Reading about insects and animals makes me dread when Schutt gets to the humanity sections!

Beth: Very unsettling! I did like the part about the acrobat redback spider though even if he comes to quite a sticky end. 😕 There is a dark humour throughout which I am appreciating as well!

Stuart: I think we are going to need that dark humour for the coming chapters! This has to be the most surprising non-fiction read I have ever read. I wonder what other secrets Schutt has in store for us. He brings up many good points about the idea of cannibalism and what actually constitutes cannibalistic behaviour. I am glad that Schutt is a hands on scientist because I don’t think this book would have been as impacting if he was just reiterating previous research.

Beth: Well, we’ve got some interesting chapters coming up including one on dinosaurs and one on Neanderthals! I’m looking forward to what’s coming next – shall we read onto the end of Chapter Ten?

Stuart: Sounds good. Should be there by tomorrow morning. Chat to you then 😁

Beth: 👍🏻

Chapter 10

Stuart: I have just finished chapter 10 and ready to discuss you are 😁.

Beth: Okay I’m ready! Sorry, had an interview today and was studying. Well that was an interesting few chapters! I have to say I didn’t enjoy them quite as much as the previous five but I was intrigued to read about Colombus and his determination to label all indigenous people cannibals!

Stuart: Yeah it is hard to discern what is sensationalism and what is genuine cannibalism. I am glad the spirit of the book is that cannibalism is only an animals/humans last resort of survival. Painting the Carib’s as monsters to justify wiping them out is brutal and it has distorted our view on other cultures still to this day. I was fascinated by how far back evidence of cannibalism in nature goes.

Beth: I can’t even imagine how they had the gall to paint them as monsters with one eye or a tail etc?! It was quite a sobering fact to think of the amount of the indigenous population has been decimated due to invasion, direct or indirect factors! 😱

Stuart: Considering there is very little evidence to suggest any ritualistic cannibalism present in those communities and cultures other than in times of mourning or survival. Definitely not savage, mindless and evil behaviour. It goes to show how important it is to stick with the facts as false evidence can lead to a lot of suffering! Schutt has done a great job compiling and explaining the history of cannibalism. I hope we get more up to date insights in the coming chapters.

Beth: I completely agree. As the subtitle “A Perfectly Natural History,” suggests it seems like it’s only resorted to when necessary or as part of a ritual of a tribe for dealing with dead bodies rather than burying them as they find burial abhorrent. Who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong if they had their own religious/spiritual reasons for it?

Stuart: Reading ahead a little I can see a couple of natural western practices that involve cannibalism in certain forms so it is about to get even more intriguing. Meet back at chapter 15?

Beth: 👍🏻

Chapter 15

Beth: Hi Stuart, ready whenever you are. 😁

Stuart: I am ready too 😁 chapters 11-15 are, in my opinion, the strongest so far. What do you think?

Beth: Absolutely. I read it all in one evening yesterday as I’ve been so busy and it was so interesting I flew through it. The chapter about the Donner Party was fascinating and I also loved the eating people is good/bad chapters! I particularly enjoyed the small part on cannibalism in fairy tales and cannibalism in China. What did you think about the filial piety and honouring your parents?? 😱

Stuart: Each chapter delved into the thought, struggle and methodology behind potentially eating another human being. It really did turn my stomach but it was interesting to see humanity’s recent dealings with cannibalism. The Donner Party showed the true circumstances that a person may cross that line. I guess different cultures have to show their love/mourn their losses in different ways 😯

Beth: Yes and if it’s the option of survival where food is scarce, what else where they going to do? I was quite interested about the references to cannibalism in the Bible, I was raised Catholic (lapsed now!) but I remember being told communion was Christ’s body and blood. Of course I didn’t even connect it back then with cannibalism. 😳

Beth: Ready to read until the end? 🤗

Stuart: Absolutely! I am impressed with Schutt’s work and I am hoping he has saved the best for last 😁

The End

Beth: Hey Stuart, ready whenever you are! 😁

Stuart: I am ready 😃. What did you think of the last lot of chapters?

Beth: Yaay! Well, those were some very interesting chapters indeed! He certainly knows how to go from strength to strength in his book. I couldn’t even tell you what my favourite topic was, he covered so much but I found medicinal cannibalism kind of horrifying! 😳

Stuart: I had a hard time with the last sections of this book. You’re right that the medical cannibalism part was weird and I don’t think mummy booze would catch on but I thought the rest of the chapters didn’t go down so well. I know that Kuru and BSE may have links to cannibalism but I felt like I was reading a different book!

Beth: That’s interesting 🤔 I did feel like I was skimming a few chunks right near the end, I’m not sure why. The placenta chapter was a bit odd wasn’t it?

Beth: How did you feel like you were reading a different book?

Stuart: The placenta section was strange but I have come across the placenta decision in other NF books so it wasn’t too surprising. I thought that the last couple of chapters changed the direction of Schutt’s momentum so much that I also found myself skimming and a little disappointed.

Beth: That’s a shame. I think I *enjoyed* if that’s the right phrase the medicinal and the placenta chapters and was intrigued by cannibalism in the Pacific Islands but it did feel a bit “samey” when he started talking about kuru and CJD. It suddenly got a bit dry which was strange as the majority of the other chapters were so strong!

Stuart: It was a bit of a shame to finish on a low but overall it was a pretty fascinating read that definitely changed my perspective on cannibalism. What do you think overall?

Beth: Overall I’m really impressed both with the subject matter and writing style. I did expect it to focus much more on cannibalism in nature but I’m kind of glad it didn’t. I felt that I discovered much more about historical incidences of cannibalism in different cultures and their reasoning behind doing it. It took down all the sensationalism behind the topic and delivered honest, accurate evidence. You?

Stuart: I agree. Bill Schutt is a hands-on researcher and an informative and down-to-earth writer. He wanted to get all the facts in one place and discuss where cannibalism exists in nature and the reasons behind it. I was amazed about the injustices done to the Carib and other indigenous tribes just to gain more land but to be honest after thinking about it, it’s not surprising. Us humans are capable of terrible things. Do you have a favourite chapter?

Beth: Very true. It made me ashamed of what we’ve done to people on their own land purely for colonialism! Ooh that’s a good question 🤔 I think my favourite chapter had to be Go On Eat The Kids or Sexual Cannibalism, Or Size Matters just because I was absolutely fascinated by cannibalism in nature. How about you?

Stuart: The chapter about The Donner Party was my favourite. It captured the essence of how desperate a normal human being would need to eat their own. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History really gave me food for thought (excuse the pun). It was a subject I had no experience of and I was surprised by how much I learned. Thank you for suggesting it for our buddy read. I was glad that Bill Schutt skipped the unnatural cases like serial killers etc and instead focused on the deep rooted presence of cannibalism in nature and humanity. We need to find more eye opening NF just like this!

Beth: Absolutely! I’m very intrigued to read his other NF now, it’s called Dark Banquet: Blood And The Curious Life Of Blood-Feeding Creatures. Any NF that is as eye opening as this is a winner in my books. 🤗

Stuart: Cheers for another brilliant buddy read. I look forward to reading your full review 😁

Here endeth the Twitter chat.

Final Thoughts

As some of you might know, I’m a scientist (by day! blogger by night!) and I really love to get my teeth into some popular science non fiction. This book has been on my radar for a little while now as it appealed to the science geek in me as well as my more morbid, darker side. I actually wished for it as one of the books I’d most like to receive for my birthday this year (see my post HERE) and very luckily for, some little fairy was listening in the form of my sister, fellow blogger Chrissi Reads and it landed on my doorstep along with ALL the others on the list as soon as I had returned from holiday. I have the best sister.

Anyway, as my previous buddy read with Stuart was YA fiction, we thought we’d branch out a bit into a different genre and the topic of cannibalism throughout history seemed to be the ideal, if rather controversial talking point. I’m not sure if I can speak for Stuart but this was a hugely different buddy reading experience for me, personally. I mean, obviously we’re talking real-life events rather than fictional characters but it was fascinating to hear his point of view on certain topics that were raised, as you can see in our Twitter chat above. We both had similar reactions to the horrific ways indigenous peoples have been treated through history and is certainly now something I want to educate myself more about going forward in reading non fiction.

Bill Schutt, author of Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History.

Generally speaking, I thought the author made consistently valid and sensible points regarding an issue that at times could be considered both sensationalist and scare-mongering. In fact, this was precisely the way many people in our recent history have viewed it, labelled certain behaviours or simply used it as an excuse to get rid of certain groups of individuals that don’t fit the necessary mould. The great thing about this book is that it never delves into that sensationalist mindset. It would be so easy for Bill Schutt to talk about the cannibalistic murderers in human society that have made headlines and whom we may associate with the topic as soon as the word pops into the periphery. Of course, they are given a brief mention, it would again be strange not to acknowledge them but this book is about so much more than the rogue psychologically disturbed and relatively few members of the human cannibalism club.

The title says exactly what it does on the tin. This astounding piece of non fiction is about cannibalism both in nature and in history. We learn the reasons why animals may cannibalise in the natural world and even the isolated incidents in humans are explored in a rational and methodical manner. It’s not just about eating your own kind for the hell of it. Sometimes it’s pure and simple survival when other resources are dangerously dwindled and there is literally, no other choice. Of course, there will be obvious exceptions to this rule but it was fascinating to see this topic in a whole new light and realise that we can’t always rely on history to tell the absolute truth.

Thank you so much to Stuart @ Always Trust In Books for another amazing buddy reading experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to many more in the future!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Advertisements

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Published July 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

What did I think?:

It feels like everyone and their dog (well maybe not their dog, but you know what I mean?) has been talking about this novel in recent times. Why am I only now getting round to it? I’ve read The Night Road by Kristin Hannah before and thoroughly enjoyed it and I trust the reviews of both my sister and my fellow bloggers who have raved about The Nightingale, yet…something stopped me. Hype can be a terrible thing, sometimes it can make you MORE wary to pick up a book. What if you don’t like it as much as everyone else does and as a result, it’s just a bit of a let down? So it sits on the shelves and you might look at it from time to time and think: “I must get round to that!” and still it sits.

Dogs read – right?!

Thank God for Janel who blogs over at Keeper Of Pages. As one of my best blogger friends and buddy reader extraordinaire, when I found out The Nightingale was also on her TBR I immediately (and rather excitedly) suggested we should choose that as our third buddy read together. And so it was done. Now I see what all the fuss was about, now I understand the beauty and the heart-break of Kristin Hannah’s extraordinary words and NOW I can push it into the hands of every single person I meet as a “must-read” book. In all seriousness, this book was nothing short of spectacular and I’m so very grateful that it was a experience I got to share with someone else as they were reading the same passages as myself at the same time. (Note: my boyfriend was also pleased with this development as I didn’t have to keep bothering him all the time to talk about the story!!).

Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale

Our story is set in France in the late thirties and follows the lives of two very different sisters, Vianne Mauriac and her younger sister Isabelle. The two sisters had a tough time growing up and lost their mother when they were quite young. Their father, now single and with his own personal issues, found it difficult to raise them and both girls learned independence from a tenderly young age. Vianne, the responsible older sister, marries her childhood sweetheart Antoine and moves to a quiet village whilst Isabelle, more rebellious and fiery is sent off to boarding school. The Nightingale follows their lives as Vianne’s husband is sent off to war and she struggles to raise their small daughter as their village is besieged by the Nazi’s. With a German soldier stationed at her home watching everything she does, Vianne has little choice for the sake of her family but to comply and stay as invisible as possible.

Meanwhile, Isabelle is determined to fight back against the horrific regime, refusing to be subservient or quiet and desperate to help the Resistance in their quest to take back France for the French, by any means necessary. The Nightingale is the story of two very different sisters and the individual ways in which they cope and fight against the intense traumas of war. It also explores their relationship both in the past and in the present time, identifies the true nature of a family bond and what happens when this bond is threatened in the most unimaginable way.

French prisoner of war soldiers – World War II

I’ve been a bit worried about writing this review and I know exactly why. I want it to be eloquent and passionate and I want to persuade as many of you as possible who are reading and haven’t read The Nightingale yet as to the reasons why you simply must read this book. However, I don’t know if I can put it into words quite how this story made me feel. I can be quite critical generally when I’m reading a story, to be honest. There’s normally small niggles and parts of the narrative/characterisation that irk me and make me hesitate to recommend it unreservedly. That is definitely not the case with this novel. There is nothing negative I can say about this book at all – it’s wholly positive and if I sound like I’m gushing, well….I am and I can’t apologise for it – this book deserves it!

Is it the plot? The setting? The characterisation? It’s all these things and I think that’s what makes The Nightingale so special for me. You know when you like the setting but the plot is a bit wishy-washy and the characters could have been developed a bit more? Or you might really enjoy a character but the plot doesn’t feel as compelling as you would have hoped? I’ve had so many of these instances with novels, especially in the recent past but in The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah has pulled the big three together perfectly and there wasn’t a single point of the narrative where I thought: “Hmm, that could have been done better.” It was quite frankly, flawless.

Image from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/591449363537969990/

The plot was compelling, exciting, horrifying and gut-wrenching. However, any of these adjectives could also apply to the sisters’ relationship and how this developed as the story continued. I was fully invested in this novel from a very early stage and this was initially due to a strong, meticulously planned plot but it was only accentuated by the creation of such intriguing, lovable and occasionally frustrating characters in both our female leads, Vianne and Isabelle. I think I can speak for both myself and Janel when I stress how much emotions we felt for these women, positively and at times, slightly negatively until quite near the end, when pieces begin to fall into place. My heart in particular felt obliterated at the twists and turns Hannah chose to include and the devastating consequences of some of our characters actions.

There were times when I almost felt I had to read it with one hand over my eyes. I desperately needed to know what happened to two women I had got to know and connected with so well but at the same time, I didn’t want to know either! It was the perfect/horrible dilemma to be placed in as a reader and although parts of the novel made for very difficult, hideous reading, it was necessary to illustrate the horrendous events that actually happened, in our not too distant history. Finally, I also adored the statement that Hannah was making about women in the war whose important and quite often life-threatening work is often forgotten or put aside in terms of what the men did. Her passion for the subject is completely evident in her writing along with the painstaking research she must have carried out to write this epic story. The Nightingale makes me so excited to read the rest of the author’s back catalogue, for me, she’s a one of a kind writer with a beautiful gift for making you feel so much in the creation of a simply unforgettable story.

Thank you so much once again to Janel for an amazing buddy read experience! Check our her amazing review of The Nightingale HERE.

Previous buddy reads with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages:

The Fireman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was the thirty-fourth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in The Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Published May 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

What did I think?:

If you haven’t read this book yet and have been umming and aahing about picking it up, please finish your current read and read it next! I put off reading this book for the longest time, even after it won the Costa Award for Best Debut Novel and even still when it was long-listed for The Women’s Prize For Fiction this year. I have heard so many rave reviews and sometimes all the hype can make me steer clear of a book rather than gravitating towards it. After all, what if it isn’t as good as everyone says? What if I’m the lone wolf in a sea of popular opinion? I’m delighted to tell you, I’m most definitely a sheep. I ADORE THIS BOOK. Janel from Keeper Of Pages (please follow her, she’s one of my blogger bezzies and a wonderful reviewer!) finally convinced me to pick this novel up in our second buddy read this month and like The Fireman last month, we both can’t speak highly enough of it. Please check out her awesome review HERE. This novel has the strange accolade of being heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. It made me laugh, it brought me close to tears and finally, now I see what all the fuss is about.

Gail Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

So, is Eleanor Oliphant Completely Fine? Well, no she’s not. You know that very British thing that most of us do when we’re feeling rubbish and yet someone asks us how we are and we say: “Fine, thank you,” when we’re clearly not?! This is poor Eleanor. Her life consists of working nine to five, five days a week in an accounting firm in Glasgow. She barely interacts with anybody except to do her job and her social awkwardness and blunt way of speaking does not endear her to her co-workers. In fact, she becomes quite the figure of fun. As soon as Friday hits, Eleanor grabs a couple of bottles of her favourite vodka, shuts herself up in her house and doesn’t speak to another living soul until Monday morning when the whole cycle starts again. This is until she meets Raymond who works in IT at her company and they both help a stranger when he falls ill in public. From here on, Eleanor’s life changes dramatically and will never be the same again. She begins to realise she is not in the slightest “fine,” and never wishes to be so miserable or lonely again.

Glasgow, Scotland where our story is set.

I can’t even deal with how many emotions this book evoked from me. I felt an instant connection when I realised it was set in Scotland, as my veins do run blue with Scottish blood but besides the setting, this is such a stunning piece of debut fiction that it took my breath away. Beginning in quite a melancholy way, where we see the loneliness and hopelessness of our female lead’s life was gut-wrenching to say the least. However, then it changes and the story is so very uplifting that it made me cheer silently multiple times as I got to know Eleanor, broke my heart for her, rooted for her and at the end, felt real and definite hope for her future. Eleanor is a complex character that really gets under your skin. Because of her past, she is not aware of the intricate niceties of interacting with other people and can come across rude, abrupt and brutally honest.

I couldn’t believe some of the things that she came out with sometimes, there were plenty of laughs but I remember at the same time shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at her naivety when facing the modern world. Things like smartphones, going to gigs and getting her nails done are big deals for Eleanor and as she continued to force herself into new, sometimes scary situations, I couldn’t help but smile at the endearing nature of it all. You don’t find out what has happened in Eleanor’s past until quite late on in the novel and although Janel and I desperately wanted to know what had gone on with her, I completely believe this was the perfect way to structure the book. You fall in love with Eleanor first as a character and it only makes it more heart-breaking when the trauma of her past is finally revealed in full, horrific detail.

Please do me a favour and read this book if you haven’t already. Eleanor is such a special character and both her and her story will play on my mind for a long while to come.

Thank you once again to Janel for an amazing buddy reading experience!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

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):

imagesCAF9JG4S

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):

imagesCAF9JG4S