This book review of " The Fireman," by Joe Hill and " Lab Girl," by Hope Jahren, is written by Kim Brack, bookseller at Off the Beaten Path. This review was originally was published in Steamboat Pilot.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the spooky tree. Joe Hill, author of the novels “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Horns” and NOS4A2, is the son of horror legend Stephen King. He writes under the pen name Joe Hill so his work can be recognized on his own merit. All Hill’s books, including his latest, “The Fireman,” certainly stand on their own.
“The Fireman” centers around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who finds herself pregnant and infected by the pandemic known as Dragonscale. This quickly spreading disease leaves gold and black markings on the skin. Once infected with Dragonscale, people carrying this lethal spore can spontaneously combust. The world descends into chaos, with mass power outages, and entire states burning … scenes that will call to mind brilliant works such as Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and, of course, King’s “The Stand.”
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In the vein of most post-apocalyptic tales, this story is more about how humankind reacts to the situation; some devolve to follow their most base instincts, while others become zealots. Most, however, simply want to survive.
Hill has created fantastic antagonists such as the Marlboro Man, a conservative talk show host who revels in inciting violent death squads to seek out the infected and shoot them down.
In a recent interview on NPR Hill discussed the influence of his famous father and growing up in a family of writers. Of “The Fireman,” he stated, “My book does carry a lot of echoes of ‘The Stand,’ which is a novel I adored, and you know, I sometimes joked that the book is ‘The Stand’ if it was soaked in gasoline and set on fire.”
Though its heft may intimidate, “The Fireman” is a fiery read, which, due to Hill’s infectious writing, is easy for readers to burn through.
I have a niece studying to be a botanist and a 14 year-old daughter who has declared she wants to be a scientist. When I heard the hype and saw the book “Lab Girl,” by Hope Jahren on the bestseller list, I purchased it for them. As I sat to give the book a cursory look, I was pulled in immediately.
“Lab Girl” reads like a novel, with characters imbued with depth. Yet, this book is non-fiction, a refreshing mix of memoir about Jahren’s journey as a female scientist in a male-dominated field and musings about plants, the central focus of her successful scientific endeavors.
What’s most refreshing is the author’s openness about her relationship and collaboration with a research partner, Bill. Through the course of 20 years, their field treks take them to the North Pole, the back roads of Florida and the Irish countryside.
Meanwhile, they build three labs, including their current lab at the University of Hawaii.
At times funny and at other points poignant, this work expresses Jahren’s passion for paleobiology — her sub-discipline within environmental geology — through her insights into plant life and growth. This is truly a terrific read for scientist and non-scientist alike.