Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There were a few options for BotW this week, but I have some other posts planned involving some of them so I thought I’d mix it up and go with a non-fiction pick this week – after all it’s been a while.

Cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of how cells from a poor Southern tobacco farmer became one of the most important and influential tools in modern medicine.  HeLa cells are immortal – easy to crow and still multiplying today more than 60 years after Henrietta’s death.  In The Immortal Life of Henriett Lacks, Rebecca Skloot has meticulously researched the life of the woman previously known to scientists as HeLa in order to tell her story and the story of her cells and to put her back at the centre of it, refocussing a what has been seen as a story of medical advancement and triumph on the woman who was hidden from the public by the scientists.

Henrietta’s cells were taken as she was being treated for the cervical cancer that killed her, and after they were cultured by lab at John Hopkins hospital it was discovered that they reproduced at a remarkable rate and could be kept alive longer than any other cell they had previously studied.  Scientists have been using them ever since.  Patients were not asked for permission or consent for this sort of procedure at the time, and the Lacks family didn’t know what had happened until years after the fact and, as the book was being researched, still didn’t really understand fully what actually happened to their mother’s cells or the implications.  As well as the story of the HeLa cell, and the ethical questions raised by it, Skloot also tells the story of the Lacks family, how she met them and eventually managed to get their side of the story and helped them understand what had happened to Henrietta and her contribution to science.

I’m not really a science person, but Skloot’s explanations of the medicine and biology in this were at a level that I could follow and understand, however the personal side of the story was what really kept me reading the book.  The way that the hospital acquired Henrietta’s cells is definitely unethical by today’s standards, but was common practice at the time – although issues of race and class seem also to have been at play here.  But effect on Henrietta’s children of the discovery of what had happened to her cells was massive and it’s explored sensitively and empathetically.

This book is fascinating, but also depressing.  It’s easy to see the HeLa cells as an example of the injustices that African Americans have faced at the hands of medicine and science – there are a lot of others in here too.  I don’t read a lot of popular science, but  had heard a lot about this and it lived up to the reviews.  It’s been turned into a TV film now and I hope that Henrietta’s descendants have done better from the book and the film than they have from her cells.

My copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback and as an audiobook, so I’m hoping that you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily if you’re interested. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the film.

Happy Reading.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 21 – January 27

Back to the real world this week – although I had a couple of days laid up at home with a poorly ankle.

Read:

Dead Room Farce by Simon Brett

A Decent Interval by Simon Brett

Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery

Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh

Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes

The Cinderella Killer by Simon Brett

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Started:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

Still reading:

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

A Well-Behaved Woman by Theresa Anne Fowler

The Binding by Bridget Collins

One book bought – Lesley-Ann Jones’s biography of Freddie Mercury, after I heard her as the expert on this week’s Great Lives.  She and Matt Lucas made a great duo talking about one of my favourite singers.  I learnt a few things and it was much more nuanced than many interpretations I’ve seen of Freddie’s life.  I’ll keep you posted on the book.

 

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews, romantic comedy, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Don’t You Forget About Me

As you can see from last week’s Week in Books (and the week before as well to be honest) I read a lot of books while I was away.  But in the end the choice for this week’s Book of the Week was easy – there was one standout that I’m still thinking about and have already recommended to a bunch of people.

Cover of Dont You Forget About Me

Don’t You Forget About Me is the new novel from Mhairi McFarlane.  Your heroine is Georgina, who we meet as she gets fired from The Worst Italian in Sheffield and then goes home to find The Worst Boyfriend in the World in bed with someone else.  Is the universe out to get her? When she gets a one-off job at a newly refurbished pub and then gets a fulltime job offer from there it seems like she might be about to turn a corner.  But her new boss turns out to be her sixth form crush-slash-secret-boyfriend which is a whole new disaster in the making.  Or it would be if Lucas remembered her, which he doesn’t – and which is crushing in its own way.  Because you never forget your first love do you?  Still at least it means that Georgina can keep working for him, just as long as she keeps her mouth shut and Lucas never finds out who she is.  Except that that gets harder and harder to do because there’s still something between them – and there’s no way Lucas isn’t going to work it out in the end is there?

I loved this.  In fact it was hard for Him Indoors to persuade me to go sightseeing with him one morning because I was 100 pages from the end and needed to know what happened to everyone.  This is just delightful.  Georgina is such an engaging heroine, Lucas is brilliant, I wanted to punch Georgina’s family at times – especially her stepdad -and I spent some considerable time thinking of extravagant punishments for Robin the Bad Boyfriend (but his actual comeuppance is very satisfying).  And on top of that the book is so, so funny.  It was in fact exactly what I have been looking for and what I have been finding so hard to find at the moment.  It’s a romantic comedy but it has a serious side as well.  There are Reasons why Georgina is still working jobs her family consider pointless and dead end.  And there’s a reason why she picked such a terrible boyfriend.  And they’re proper, life changing reasons, but there’s such a light touch about it that it all works beautifully together.

This also captured some of my memories of my sixth form experience so perfectly that it nearly took my breath away.  I’m a couple of years older than Georgina is meant to be but Mhairi McFarlane has captured that feeling of not being able to do the right thing no matter what you do when faced with the popular kids, that everything is life and death and that the path of your life can be changed by one wrong decision.  I always mistrust people who say that their schooldays were the best of their lives, because mine were terrifying and scary and I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in china – especially not now social media is a thing.

I know that chick lit is a problematic term – and I have as many issues with it as everyone else.  But if you read “chick lit” back in the early 00s and find it hard to capture that same feeling from books now – then try this.  I read a lot of books (as you know) but I really struggle to find funny, romantic books with happy endings that aren’t all humour through humiliation (not my thing) or finding happiness again (or in the end) after dead husbands or life threatening illnesses (or terminal diagnoses).  Something with something more to it than *just* a romance but where you’re not going to have your heart broken before you get to a sort of happy ending.  But This Is It.  It is fun and funny and it all works out in the end – but not because A Perfect Man has made it better – but because Georgina has figured out who she is and how to start fixing her life herself.

I know that sounds gushy and a bit OTT, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to start reading this and just sink into it and enjoy letting it all happen.  I’ve read so many books recently where I either can’t see how it can all possibly work out all right in the end (or even satisfactorily) or been braced for something bad to happen, that it was a joy to realise that I was in safe hands and could just relax and read.  And my tears at the end were happy ones.

I’ve read two of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous books – but there’s been a big old gap since I read the last one so I had forgotten how much I like her writing.  I now need to go back and figure out why I haven’t read the other two and remedy that as soon as possible.  Knowing me and the state of my to-read pile, I’ll probably have at least one of them sitting on the kindle already…

My copy of Don’t You Forget About Me came from NetGalley, but it is out now on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback comes out at the start of March.  I’ll try and remember to remind you – and I’m sure it’ll be in all the usual placed – but you could always pre-order it now.  I’m just saying.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  And if you’ve got any recommendations for other books you think might scratch the same itch for me, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 14 – January 20

Can you tell that I’ve been on holiday? It was my birthday so we went away to get a little bit of sunshine in Spain. It was warmer than the UK, we did lots of sightseeing and I read plenty of books. A win all around.

Read:

Wreath Between the Lines by Daryl Wood Gerber

A Brush with Death by Ali Carter

The Italian’s Passionate Proposal by Sarah Morgan

Sicken and So Die by Simon Brett

Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen

Something to Tell You by Lucy Diamond

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh

Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James

Dance All Night by Alexis Daria

Second Chance Girl by Susan Mallery

Rivers of London: Action at a Distance by Ben Aaronovitch et al

Started:

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes

Still reading:

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

A Well-Behaved Woman by Theresa Anne Fowler

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

No books bought – not even at the airport.  Wasn’t I good?!

Bonus picture: the beach on Sunday evening

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 7 -January 13

Not bad going this week, even if I do say so myself!

Read:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Corporate Bodies by Simon Brett

Photo Finish by Ngaio Marsh

A Crafter Knits a Clue by Holly Quinn

A Reconstructed Corpse by Simon Brett

Tikka Chance On Me by Suleikha Snyder

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody

Started:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Sicken and So Die by Simon Brett

Still reading:

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

A Well-Behaved Woman by Theresa Anne Fowler

One e-book bought so not no books, but I’m trying hard!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Death by Dumpling

As mentioned yesterday, picking BotWs is being made harder by the fact that I currently seem to be working my way through two series at a rate of knots and it’s creating a lot of repetition in the WiB list – and could make these posts very boring.  Luckily, I also read the first in a new to me (and actually fairly new) cozy mystery series last week and it was a lot of fun and showed some great potential. Job done.

Copy of Death by Dumpling

Death by Dumpling is the first in the Noodle Shop Mystery series – and was also Vivien Chien’s debut novel.  Our wannabe detective is Lana Lee, 27 years old and back working at her family’s noodle house after walking out on her job and a brutal break-up.  But when the property manager of the plaza where the restaurant is is found dead, she and her family’s business are in the firing line.  Because Mr Feng died of an allergic reaction – to shellfish in dumplings from the Ho-Lee Noodle House.  But Lana knows everyone there knew about his allergy – so how did this happen?  Soon she’s investigating what happened while fending off dinner invites from the new guy at the plaza and hoping to get to know the detective investigating the case better…

I enjoyed this a lot and raced through it in practically one sitting – I moved from the sofa to bed 100 pages from the end but that was the extent of the movement!  The characters are fun and it’s really nice to see a different type of setting for a cozy.  Lana is a nice lead character – she’s got a nice balance of quirks and insecurities to self-confidence and skills.  The setting is good and the side characters are engaging too.  As the book is mostly setting up Lana and the series, you don’t get a lot of the other characters, but I’m hoping that changes as the series continues.   There were a few elements felt a little clunky at times, but as this is a debut as well as the start of the series, I didn’t mind too much because I think this series has a lot of potential.  I’m fed up with cupcake bakers and crafters – I’m so ready for an Asian-American detective working in the family noodle house and this delivers most of the time.

I picked my copy of Death by Dumpling up on a Barnes and Noble trip during my American Odyssey and brought it home with me.  I have no regrets about bringing it back across the Atlantic – because it meant I read a load of library books before I came home – although I do wish that I’d brought the second book in the series as well because they were cheaper to buy in the US than they are here!  But you can get hold of Death by Dumpling on Kindle and Kobo (the Kindle price is much better than the Kobo one atow)  and in paperback from Amazon – but I suspect it’s actually a special order US-Import type deal there, so I’m not sure what your luck is going to be in proper bookshops in the UK.

Happy Reading!