Non Fiction

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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

 

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Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Published July 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, Jenny Lawson baffled readers with stories about growing up the daughter of a taxidermist. In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.”

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”

Jenny’s first book, LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways-and who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

What did I think?:

I’ve been sitting on this review for a long time now, purely because I don’t know if I can put into words how much I needed this book when I read it recently. This wonderful work of non-fiction is the author’s experience with mental illness, namely anxiety and depression and it is raw, brutally honest and full of the most amazing humour, heart and soul. Jenny Lawson gives us a no holds barred account into her daily struggles keeping her mental health on an even keel but what struck me most about this book was how fantastically upbeat and hopeful it was. Jenny is determined to be “furiously happy,” despite her internal monologues attempting to make her feel otherwise and I had nothing but deep respect and admiration for the way she consistently made the best of a bad situation.

Jenny Lawson, blogger at The Bloggess and author of Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

I’m sure we all know how important it is to talk about mental health and not to suffer in silence but it’s strange, I feel like in recent years it’s become even more crucial to let people know they’re not alone. I hope everyone knows my DM box is always open and I’d hate to think of anyone out there staying quiet, hurting inside and acting in ways they might regret, purely because they didn’t feel like they had anyone to talk to. I’ve had my own struggles with mental health which began when I was a teenager and was bullied, carried on right through my adolescence with social anxiety, depression, dodgy friendships and even dodgier relationships and at the moment, even though I’ve gone through a personal year of hell, I’m feeling probably the strongest I ever have been in my life. This however doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days where I question everything including my place on the planet.

This is why Furiously Happy is so important. Personally, I respond best to humour and I often use it as a defence mechanism in my own life. I have a small but very appreciated group of close friends both online and in “real life,” and they’re well aware of using humour to bring me out of a funk or make me realise how lucky I really am in the grand scheme of things. You know who you are guys. So when I read this book I was utterly delighted to be pulled into a world that I could sympathise, understand and most importantly, see myself in the author’s writing. It’s like being taken on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from sadness to incredulity then compassion to joy. The greatest thing is, I didn’t find it in the slightest “triggering,” as I was never too upset for long before the humour kicks in and we start hearing about voodoo vaginas or dead raccoon rodeos! Yes, seriously.

This book is my kind of humour. Dark, a bit close to the bone, occasionally quite sinister but it tickled my strange little funny bone so much that I found myself desperate to get back to it as soon as I put it down. We need people like Jenny Lawson with her self-deprecating and candid thoughts and feelings. Admittedly, it IS a bit odd in points and reads almost like a stream of consciousness but for me, this was also the beauty of the narrative. You never know exactly what’s coming next and the thrill of that for me as a reader is second to none. I understand some reviewers have commented on her overuse of capitals and that occasionally a joke will feel a bit forced, like she is trying too hard to be funny. For me, that didn’t come across. I just appreciated a brilliantly funny woman being open and honest about her own internal struggles and if it opens up the conversation and gets other people talking and receiving help, that can only be a good thing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Mid Year Freak Out Tag 2018

Published July 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to a tag that’s really doing the rounds at the moment – the Mid Year Freak Out Tag which I loved doing last year. Here we go!

1.) The Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year

This book has now made it onto my all time favourites shelf and I’m already dying to re-read it which usually doesn’t happen for a few years at least! It broke my heart and made me laugh in equal measure and if I’m ever asked for a recommendation, this is the latest book that I push into the hands of everyone who asks. 

2.) Your Favourite Sequel This Year?

I’ve got a feeling that one of the Marnie Rome books appeared in this spot last year, I’m so predictable haha! For me, this series keeps getting better and better and this book for “favourite sequel” spot was a no-brainer.

3.) A New Release That You Haven’t Read Yet But Really Want To?

Okay, so I was initially put off this book because I heard it was about ice hockey. I’m not a huge fan of reading about sports so thought it wasn’t for me. Then I started to see all the amazing reviews, then I realised it wasn’t just about ice hockey, NOW my fellow bloggers are starting to virtually bash me on the head for not having read it so far. This will happen soon, I promise. Er, this month or next month I mean!! For my interview with Fredrik Backman – please see my post HERE. (shameless plug).

4.) Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year?

I think I might have already mentioned Melmoth by Sarah Perry in a previous tag but Bridge Of Clay by Markus Zusak is another one I’ve got on pre-order and am really excited for it to be released!

5.) Your Biggest Disappointment?

I was going to choose one of our Banned Books, Blood And Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause for this answer but in the end, I’m going to choose this. Lee Child has so many fans around the world, I really, REALLY wanted to like this book. I don’t know what it was, maybe I came to the series too late but I didn’t get on with it at all. Huge disappointment! Read my review HERE (but please LC fans, don’t come after me with pointy sticks!)

6.) Biggest Surprise Of The Year?

I read this as a buddy read with the lovely Stuart from Always Trust In Books. It was our first buddy read together so I will always have fond memories of it because of that but I honestly wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this. I was completely gripped the whole way through and this is the first YA series that has got right under my skin for a long time now. Check out my review and our Twitter chat HERE.

We recently read a non fiction together, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt so look out for our review on that coming in the next couple of weeks. We are also just about to start on the follow up to Scythe, called Thunderhead and I think I can say for both of us that we are VERY excited!

7.) Favourite New To You Or Debut Author?

This was an easy pick for me. I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine with my blogger BFF Janel at Keeper Of Pages as our second buddy read and it was also our second five star! Gail Honeyman is new to me and she is also a debut author so that ticks both boxes and I can safely say, whatever she writes next I will be pre-ordering and incredibly excited for.

8.) Your New Fictional Crush?

I have to be honest, I don’t really get fictional crushes but if I had to choose, I’d choose Henry from one of my all time favourite books, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger which I re-read again this year. He’s a little bit mysterious, a little bit dangerous and I love the way he loves Clare. I’m not big on romance but their relationship just captured my heart.

9.) New Favourite Character?

I read the Nightingale with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages for our third buddy read and although my review isn’t up until tomorrow (spoiler alert, I ADORED it!) I had to include it on this tag because I completely fell in love with the character of Isabelle. I’ll talk more about her tomorrow but wow, I don’t think I’ll ever forget her!

10.) A Book That Made You Cry?

It takes a lot for a book to make me cry, I’m not sure why! But when a book does, I will never forget it. I came close to crying with The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Nightingale, books I’ve already mentioned in this tag but I really teared up during a particular moment of H Is For Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, a non fiction book about grief and falconry where Helen is feeling sad and then plays with her hawk for the first time. It’s really heart-warming and was a passage I read over and over again.

11.) A Book That Made You Happy?

Matilda by Roald Dahl, an old childhood favourite and one Chrissi Reads and I picked for our Kid-Lit challenge this year. I absolutely adore it and it’s always a delight to re-read. 

12.) Your Favourite Book To Movie Adaptation That You’ve Seen This Year?

Has to be The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from the novel by Margaret Atwood. I love the book (it’s another of my all-time favourites) and I loved the TV series too, I’m currently watching the second one on Channel 4 and it’s so chilling!

13.) Favourite Book Post You’ve Published This Year?

I hate this question as I’m always really insecure about how my blog posts are received. I guess there’s two I’m quite pleased with for very different reasons, Another Day In The Death Of America where I really enjoyed ranting about guns in America and The Time Traveler’s Wife which I’ve already mentioned above where I got into some quite personal details about my own life. 

14.) The Most Beautiful Book You Have Bought/Received This Year?

I’m actually on a book buying ban this year (this excludes pre-orders and any books I might receive for my birthday of course!) so I’ve been really good about not buying many. I did get this beautiful Penguin clothbound classic of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott from my boyfriend for my birthday while we were on holiday in Mexico which was a lovely surprise!

15.) What Are Some Books That You Need To Read By The End Of The Year?

These are the main two books that my fellow bloggers have been begging me to read soon. And I will, I promise!

So that’s my answers, thank you so much for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed my choices. Let me know in the comments if you agree with me or tell me what you might choose yourself. Anyone who wants to do this and hasn’t done it yet, consider yourself tagged!

 

The Sun And Her Flowers – Rupi Kaur

Published June 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

From Rupi Kaur, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of milk and honey, comes her long-awaited second collection of poetry. A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome back to another review on bibliobeth today. I’ve been away for a little break, perhaps longer than I would have liked as I’ve had some life “stuff” to deal with that has led to me being offered a new job. It’s been a tough decision for me to make as it involves uprooting myself from a place I love working, but practically and health-wise it’s going to be the best move to make as it will involve a reduction in both travelling and travelling costs! Anyway, today I’m here to talk about the second volume of poetry by Rupi Kaur who also wrote the astounding Milk and Honey (which I’m a huge fan of). Let me be frank, I’m not any kind of poetry connoisseur and I know the author has had a lot of criticism about her poetic style but all I’m here to say is, different things work for different people and personally, her poetry DEFINITELY speaks to me.

Rupi Kaur, author of the poetry collection The Sun And Her Flowers

Unlike most fiction/non-fiction books I review, it’s going to be pretty hard to give a synopsis regarding the particular content of The Sun And Her Flowers but there are overlapping themes between Rupi’s first collection and this, her second. It is divided into five chapters, all in turn connected with the growth cycle of flowers so we have: Wilting, Falling, Rooting, Rising and Blooming. As you may have suspected (or if you read the author’s previous collection,  we start out on a somewhat darker note with Wilting and Falling where the author explores more heart-breaking nods to her life experiences so far. This includes her struggles with insecurity and body image, the break-up of relationships, her relationship with her mother and emotional and sexual abuse. Rupi uses her own simple but effective illustrations to complement her poetry which varies in length from a few paragraphs to merely a few lines but it seems every word is chosen so methodically in this latter case that just one sentence can be devastatingly moving.

After the initial few chapters, The Sun And Her Flowers embodies a much more positive message than Milk and Honey which at times, went into some very terrifying emotional places. The author focuses much more on learning to love yourself as a woman, accepting yourself for who you are, connecting with family and friends more often and accepting your past whilst trying to move on. The messages in her poetry that promote self-worth are dazzlingly effective and something I can see myself re-visiting myself if I’m having a bad mental health day and need a little boost. She still goes to some murky places and if you’re particularly sensitive to the topics I mentioned in the above paragraph, I would approach this collection with caution but generally, I could feel the optimistic change in her writing compared to Milk and Honey.

It’s almost as if Rupi Kaur has got everything out of her system, released a lot of anger and negativity regarding her past and although she understandably still has demons that haunt her, she is managing her own emotional well-being a lot better. She is able to discuss things that have happened to her in her past, confront the debilitating emotions that she suffered (and still continues to suffer on bad days) but can see the light at the end of the tunnel and approaches things with a much more positive outlook. For me, after Milk And Honey, my expectations were exponentially raised and although it isn’t the five star read that Kaur’s debut collection was and didn’t have as much of an emotional impact on me, it’s still a moving piece of work that I would be happy to read through again in the future, especially when I’m having particularly trying points of my own life.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published May 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What did I think?:

Recently, I’m getting more and more interested in non fiction, although I have to remind myself to “get reading” it, I have far too many fiction books begging to be read on my shelves. I was aware of H is For Hawk when it first came out and then it won the Costa Award for Best Biography in 2014 so I was even more intrigued to read it. I remember going into bookshops multiple times, seeing it there, picking it up and then putting it back down again. After all, how interesting can a book about training a hawk really be? Then my boyfriend listened to it on audiobook and raved about how wonderful it was. That was it, determined. I HAD to pick it up and read it soon. Well, I finally got round to it recently and oh my goodness, why on earth did I wait that long?! This was a wonderful, touching and fascinating read that gave me a little fuzzy feeling inside and an instant admiration and respect for the author, Helen Macdonald.

The author of H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald with her goshawk. I love this picture!

Yes, H is For Hawk IS about how Helen learns to train a goshawk with very little previous experience but this book is also about so much more. She originally gets her first goshawk, Mabel after the sudden death of her beloved father and whilst she is struggling with her grief, she finally realises one of her biggest dreams since she was a little girl, becoming a falconer. When she was younger, Helen loved to read the author T.H. White’s non fiction book entitled The Goshawk which described his own experiences as a novice training a bird of prey. She decides to re-visit that book as an adult whilst training Mabel and basking in the memories of her father and the reader is treated to parts of T.H. White’s own story as he battled with both a cranky, independent goshawk and the truth of his own sexuality which he was desperate to hide.

The goshawk (not Mabel, just a random one!) but an absolutely beautiful bird of prey, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I adored reading Helen’s story, from the minute she bought Mabel to the early days of training and the struggles with an incredibly fiesty, stubborn creature. Then there were both heart-breaking and heart-warming passages as Helen’s grief for her father threatens to overwhelm her, leading her to neglect her mental health, shut herself off from friends and social events and make her worry that she’ll never be able to connect with her strange new animal companion. Then there are the triumphs which quite honestly, brought a tear to my eye. I’m a huge animal lover anyway but there was a particular scene in H is For Hawk that really choked me up. Helen has been told that goshawk’s don’t really “play,” but one evening, Helen decides to throw a paper ball at Mabel and the goshawk begins to join in, tossing and crunching the ball and moving her head to stare at Helen through a paper tube, extremely happy and content. This was a huge breakthrough for both Helen and Mabel and it was a passage I had to read over and over again, it was too adorable for words and I loved seeing both Mabel’s personality coming out and Helen’s happiness in the goshawk’s reaction.

This is a far more emotional read than I was anticipating and really demonstrates the nature of grief, which rolls around like waves and may severely affect you some days more than others. I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for being so honest about her suffering and am certain it will help other people going through the same thing, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the potential to be happy again. I’m also delighted to have found Mabel, such a huge character and beautiful creature that I’ll find difficult to forget, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan

Published April 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what could be better than a book about books? My boyfriend got me this book as a gift and as a loud and proud bookworm, he couldn’t have got me anything better. Seriously, this must be how some girls feel when they’re given jewellery? Lucy Mangan’s thorough exploration of her childhood reading is beautifully nostalgic and warmed my heart. We hear small parts of Lucy’s own life but unlike other memoirs, as the title suggests, this book is focused purely on how different books have shaped the author’s life. As a bookish, rather solitary child myself, I nodded along with almost everything the author described. For example, the joys of being sent to your room as a punishment – hey, more time alone to read right? Or the delights of reading under your cover with a torch when you’re supposed to be sleeping, which made me very tired the next morning at school but strangely satisfied as I managed to finish the book I was reading!

From the delights of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Lucy takes us through books that meant something to her as a child and how they changed her as a person. Lucy is slightly older than me by six years so some of the books I wasn’t instantly familiar with but I had a bundle of fun researching them on Google, especially when she mentioned illustrators like Edmund Evans and Maurice Sendak. However, the cockles of my heart were well and truly warmed when she mentioned my own childhood favourites like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, the master that is Roald Dahl, the heart-break of Charlotte’s Web, the goddess of adventure stories that is Enid Blyton and of course, my own personal heroine, Judy Blume. Helpfully, the author also provides a complete list of all the books she mentions in the appendix and I have to admit to adding quite a few to my wish-list!

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading is a gorgeous, evocative read that will have you remembering the books that really made an impression on you when you were younger and leave you with a wistful urge to re-read them all over again. The only reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is that there were a few books that I didn’t know and so didn’t quite feel the same connection with as others. However, this is a fantastic journey back in time that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly anticipate reading again in the future next time I need a trip down memory lane. The style of Lucy Mangan’s writing really invites you in and makes you feel like you’re having a chat with a good friend about the favourite topic of any bookworm of course – BOOKS. I’ve got that fuzzy, gooey feeling all over again just talking about this book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Charlotte Brontë: A Life – Claire Harman

Published April 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin is publishing the definitive biography of this extraordinary novelist, by acclaimed literary biographer Claire Harman.

Charlotte Brontë’s life contained all the drama and tragedy of the great Gothic novels it inspired. She was raised motherless on remote Yorkshire moors and sent away to brutally strict boarding school at a young age. She watched helpless growing up as, one by one, her five beloved siblings sickened and died; by the end of her short life, she was the only child of the Brontë clan remaining. And most fascinating and tragic of all, throughout her adult life she was haunted by a great and unrequited love – a love that tortured Charlotte but also inspired some of the most moving, intense and revolutionary novels ever written in the English language.

Charlotte was a literary visionary, a feminist trailblazer and the driving force behind the whole Brontë family. She encouraged her sister Emily to publish Wuthering Heights when no-one else believed in her talent. She took charge of the family’s precarious finances when her brilliant but feckless brother Branwell succumbed to opium addiction. She travelled from Yorkshire to Europe to the bright lights of London, met some of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation (Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray), and became a bestselling female author in a world still dominated by men. And in each of her books, from Villette and Shirley to her most famous, Jane Eyre, Charlotte created brand new kinds of heroines, inspired by herself and her life, fiercely intelligent women burning with hidden passions.

This beautifully-produced, landmark biography is essential reading for every fan of the Brontë family’s writing, from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. It is a uniquely intimate and complex insight into one of Britain’s best loved writers. This is the literary biography of the year; if you loved Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, this event is not to be missed.

What did I think?:

My wonderful boyfriend was kind enough to buy me this beautiful hardback edition of Charlotte Brontë – A Life a couple of years ago for a birthday and I cannot believe I’m only getting round to reading it now. Jane Eyre is tied with Pride And Prejudice for one of my favourite classics, actually if I’m being honest, one of my favourite ever books and I’m eagerly anticipating doing a re-read of my lovely Penguin clothbound edition very soon. I’ve always been fascinated about the life of Charlotte but occasionally, memoirs intimidate me slightly so I’ve putting this off for a while now! I honestly don’t know why I was being so silly because this biography was hugely readable and very enjoyable to boot. I have remained shamefully ignorant about Charlotte and her sisters in the past but found out much more than I could ever have anticipated from Claire Harman’s wonderfully researched tome. It’s definitely made me more keen to catch up on the rest of Charlotte’s novels – Vilette, Shirley and The Professor and I can’t wait to get started.

The reader is spoiled with this book in that not only do we get the life of Charlotte to pore over but we get detailed information on every single member of her family. Of course, who could leave out Anne and Emily who had such great successes of their own? We learn about the difficulties faced by Charlotte’s father when he first came to the country from Ireland and how he managed as a single father of six children after his wife died unexpectedly. Not only does Charlotte grow up without the steady hand and love of her mother whom she barely remembers but she has to suffer unbearable agonies as through her life, each of her five siblings also passes away. We get a fascinating insight into Charlotte’s time at boarding school which were so hideous that they inspired the events at the school in her most famous novel, Jane Eyre. Furthermore, we also learn about her great love, a married Belgian schoolteacher who she never really gets over and who breaks her heart by not reciprocating her feelings. Throughout it all, Charlotte comes across as one of the most determined, headstrong, stubborn and gentle women that I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her life was filled with heart-ache but throughout it all, she never gave up and managed to do what she had always dreamed of – to be a successful writer.

Oh my goodness, after this stunning, intricately detailed biography, I feel almost like I know Charlotte inside out. My heart broke with hers when her sisters and brother died, I felt her agony at suffering with low self-esteem and at times, fragile mental health and saw her pain when she fell in love to have it ignored. Not only did I enjoy “meeting” Charlotte but I loved learning in greater depth about Emily, Anne and Branwell too who all had their own individual demons to fight. Some parts were completely shocking – like Emily’s treatment of a dog which was not only hideous but thoroughly confusing to me. There is also evidence that Charlotte herself didn’t actually die of TB as was suspected but was instead suffering from quite a different condition that still plagues many women today (although luckily, they don’t usually pass away from it!). I don’t think I’ve read many biographies that touch my heart and make me feel so many emotions but Charlotte Brontë – A Life was definitely one of these. It’s quite dense in places and reads quite slowly in others but it’s all worth it to learn about the enthralling life of such a beloved author in our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Charlotte Brontë – A Life by Claire Harman was the twenty-sixth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!