Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Pages: 369 (paperback)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Borrowed from a friend/Checked out from the library
Date Completed: October 28, 2012
I had been wanting to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot ever since I saw a segment about the story on CBS Sunday Morning. I was so excited when my book club selected it as the August selection. I had many intentions of finishing the book in time for the meeting, but I underestimated how hard it would be to find time to read with an infant. Before the book club meeting, I borrowed a copy of the book from a friend. After the meeting, I was checking the book out from the library and had to be patient as I ran out of renews and had to share with other people on the wait list.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I like the combination of science and personal narrative. The contrast between the scientific advancement and contribution of Ms. Lacks to science with the dire conditions of her family is striking. At our book club discussion, one point of contention was whether or not the Lacks family deserved special treatment because of Ms. Lacks cells being used without her consent. The group was divided. Another criticism, by some in the book club, is that the author spent too much time on the personal narrative and it was hard to read.
My take on those two points is that the book is structured in a way to show the complexity and inequity of how advances in science are applied (or not) to various members of society. The author does a wonderful job of showing how part of someone's body (her cells) can contribute so much to advancing science while the absence of that person from her children's lives can cause so much sadness. I enjoyed reading about the family, even though it was so painful and sad at times. The book is unique in that you get your science, technical fix and also get a story. I wish that there was a happy ending, but, alas, real life does not often end neatly.
When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.
Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.
Pages: 369 (paperback)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Checked out from the library
Date Completed: October 28, 2012
I had not heard about The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom until it was nominated for and then selected as the November read for the Partners and Professors book club. The premise of the story was interesting, but I did not really know what to expect. For the first half of the book, I was really engrossed with the story and kept trying to find a few minutes to read. Towards the end, I felt restless and found myself "scanning" ahead to see what was coming next.
The story is told from the perspective of two women, Lavinia and Belle. The two perspectives not only moved the story forward in interesting ways, but also allowed the reader to see how Lavinia matures. The story is historical fiction and I think it did a good job of illustrating the difference between an indentured servant and a slave. Almost all of the characters were complex, but I wish we had a chance to unpack more of the complexity of some of the characters.
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.
It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plains--except Katniss.
The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay--no matter what the personal cost.
Pages: 390 (Hardcover)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Source: checked out from the library
Date Completed: August 2, 2012
After I read the first Hunger Games book for a book club meeting, I knew that I needed to find out what happened next. As a result, I put myself on the wait list for the next two installments and got completely sucked into the stories. You can read my reviews of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire here and here. When I started Mockingyay by Suzanne Collins I was nervous and excited about what would happen next. I wondered how things would be resolved.
While I am glad that I finished the series, I was not as excited about what would happen next. I found myself waiting to see the conclusion but mostly because I wanted it to be over. For a series which had some really great characters and plot twists, I feel bad saying something so negative. I was satisfied with some of the resolutions and others felt very far fetched. In spite of my reservations, I am glad that I got to know Katniss Everdeen and the rest of the characters. I loved her fierce loyalty and enjoyed reading along as she grappled with intense and complicated life situations.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will becomeThe Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
Pages: 314 (Hardcover)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Checked out from the library multiple times
Date Completed: July 20, 2012
In the spring of 2011, I attended the Gaithersburg Book Festival with my friend Karen. She had a list of authors she wanted to see and Paula McLain was on her list. I did not know anything about the author or the book, but I decided to sit in on the session. Paula McLain was a very engaging speaker and the love story she described between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway gave me goose bumps. You can see her presentation here. She made an impression on me and The Paris Wife got a spot on my very long to-read list.
It took me over a year to begin The Paris Wife. I began reading in April; with library wait lists and life demands, I did not finish until July. While I am glad I read the book, I was not drawn into the story as much as I hoped. I liked Hadley's character and found the story of their romance nice, but also frustrating. I appreciated and related to Hadley's desire to break out of her family's protective circle. At several points in the novel, while I groaned at her situation, I was impressed with Hadley's ability to proceed as she wished. Trying to find her own way in the midst of societal expectations must have been tough. As the story unfolded, I felt better and better about not liking Hemingway's novels. He was a jerk and deeply disappointing. As an aside, I keep hoping to hear about a male artist who is able to be loyal and loving to his spouse.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
Pages: 450 (electronic version)
Rating:9 out of 10
Source:purchased to read on my Nook
Date Completed: Roughly around September 17, 2012
When the Partners and Professors book club picked Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for our September meeting, I did not have much of a reaction. Since I am on a book buying diet, I was nervous about being able to get the book in time to read for the meeting. The wait list at the library was over 2,000. My library has a speed read option were you can check out a book for one week with no option of renewal. I took out the book and read a few chapters in the beginning. Since I was nervous about not being able to finish, I read the last chapter and was completely confused. Even though I had technically ruined the book, I was so confused that I still wanted to read from the beginning.
I had gotten a Nook as a Mother's day gift in May, but I had yet to use it. Partner gave me an ultimatum: I would either use the Nook or it would be returned. I, incorrectly, assumed that there were no wait list on electronic books at the library. When I discovered that I would have to wait for an e-version as well, I took the plunge and made my first Nook purchase. The experience of reading on the Nook was a little strange at first, but I started to enjoy it. When my family came into town for my daughter's first birthday, holding the Nook while pumping was pretty easy. I had a little bit of trouble with changing the pages-- the buttons and swipe are not my favorite. After a little while, I was completely consumed with the story and did not really notice I was reading on the Nook.
Phew--- after that LONG introduction-- here is my take on Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I felt so unsettled after I finished the book. My exact words were, "that is some fucked up shit!" The story went quickly. I stayed up way too late because I wanted to see what would happen next. I was surprised with how the story unfolded. Even though I grew to hate Amy, I still wanted to figure out what she was thinking. I have never read a book with so many characters that were so messed up. My favorite character was Nick's twin sister Go. She has her share of issues, but I really appreciate her loyalty.