The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Book Review

I’ve asked people – have you ever heard of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot?  For every time I have asked that question, I get looked at like I’ve got three heads.

When I first heard about this book, I thought it was fiction.  I had no idea about what HeLa cells were or how they have changed the face of modern medicine.  Now I do, and I’m so glad I’ve read this book.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor mother of five, a black tobacco farmer from the south, who died in 1951 of cancer that started in her cervix, and ended up spreading throughout her body, taking over and killing her very quickly.  Of course at that time, the radiation treatment that was used was brutal, and the last few months of her life were horribly painful.

Unbeknownst to Henrietta or her family, before she died, some of her cells were taken from her cervix.  This was back in the time before it was necessary to tell patients that they were using their cells for research.  Before Henrietta’s cells, they were not able to make any stay alive for more than a few days.  With hers, not only did they stay alive, but they thrived, growing and growing, and allowing scientists to use them to do huge amounts of research on several diseases, including cancer and AIDS, as well as create the polio vaccine.  Her cells have been in outer space as well, taken up with astronauts.

All this went on without the knowledge of her family.  This book covers the life and death of Henrietta, as well as the authors discovery of HeLa cells, what they were and the fact that there was a woman behind them with a family.  It goes through the research process and the meetings she had with the family, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s younger daughter, who longed to learn more about her mother and her older sister Elsie, who was sent away to an institution and died shortly after Henrietta did.

The family story is actually quite sad, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on how they never received any compensation for the use of their mothers cells.  It’s actually quite sad that the family of the woman who unknowingly changed the face of medicine, is unable to afford to go and see a doctor.

Very interesting, an enjoyable, fairly quick read.

Darkest Powers Trilogy – Book Review

I recently finished reading the Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong.  This is a YA trilogy that consists of The Summoning, The Awakening and The Reckoning.

I am a huge fan of Armstrong’s Otherworld series.  My almost 13 year old niece loves the Darkest Powers trilogy, and as she is also a fellow Harry Potter fan, I knew I had to give it a try.

The series centers around 15 year old Chloe Sanders, a student at an art school in New York.  Her mother died when she was young, and she is left in the care of her father, a busy, never there businessman, who likes to flip apartments and move around a lot.  Chloe is taken care of mostly by housekeepers, and her Aunt Lauren, her late mothers’ sister.  She is actually a quite likable character.

Chloe is a late bloomer, but when she does finally “bloom,” look out!  She begins to see people that other people don’t, which leads to a breakdown and she is taken to a group home for troubled teens.  She meets up with some other young people there, all of whom are just a wee bit different.

It doesn’t take too long before Chloe realizes that she is a necromancer, and the people she is seeing are actually ghosts.  A little digging reveals that she is not your typical necromancer, and none of her housemates are very typical either.

Armstrong’s Otherworld series was definitely written for adults.  The language used, situations, etc. are all for adult readers.  This was written for tweens/teens.  It’s actually quite mild in comparison.  Where Clayton and Elena (Otherworld) may be tearing each others clothes off and ravaging each other in the forest, in these books we’re working with eye contact, blushing, hand grazing and more of the like.  The nice thing about reading this trilogy is that it is written in the same context, in the same world.  I recognized terminology, locations, etc. from the Otherworld series.  So any young reader that reads DP will find familiarity when they are older and progress into Otherworld.

Very good, very well written, as all of Armstrong’s books are.

Each separately and the trilogy on a whole – 4/5 stars.

Between Friends – Book Review

So our July book for our book club was Between Friends by Debbie Macomber.  We decided that we needed something a bit uplifting, something that was pure fiction, perhaps with a romance thrown in.  We have been meeting since February, and with the exception of Water for Elephants, we haven’t had good luck with our selections.

So someone mentioned that Between Friends was on her to-read list.  We found the book and decided that it was just what we were looking for.  I went home and downloaded the book to my Kindle, and finished it in two days.

This book is not written as a novel, so to speak.  It is made up of a series of letters, telegrams, birth and death announcements, and eventually e-mails, centered around two women, who have been friends since the first grade, and remain close friends through their whole lives, through a series of ups and downs and marriages, children, sicknesses, re-locations, etc.

The two main characters are Jillian and Lesley.  Jillian comes from an upper class family, her father is a judge, and she never had to want for anything in her whole life.  Lesley comes from a lower class family with an abusive alcoholic for a father and she grew up poor.

The difference in classes never seems to make much difference to either girl.  They are best friends, and that is that.  They go throughout the various stages of her life, Lesley meeting and marrying a man very much like her father and seeming to suffer the same fate her mother did.  Jillian went off to college, eventually to move to New York and follow in her father’s footsteps.

I won’t give away the plot too much, but it is very interesting the way it was written as a series of letters, with current events written in to show you what part of history they were in at the time (elections, deaths, etc).  I started reading and it took me a while to realize that the whole book was written that way and it wasn’t just the preface as books often have.

An easy read, a quick one, and a great summer beach read.  I really recommend it – she made me want to keep reading to see what was going to happen.  Through these letters she made me genuinely like each character, and care about where their lives went.

Overall 4/5 stars.  I am interested in checking out the many more titles from this author.

Here We Go Again (Betty White) – Book Review

The book for June for my book club, the “Book Mistresses” was “Here We Go Again” by Betty White.  I have long been a very big fan of Betty White, having mostly known her for her role as Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls.

This book had some personal details surrounding her life, including her three marriages, two divorces, and the untimely death of her beloved Allen Ludden.  It mostly though, centered around her career, which makes sense as it was plugged as her life in television.  I found it interesting as she was basically around for the beginning of television, and has seen it evolve from a series of live, 10 minute programs, to what it is today.  She has seen the rise and fall of the sitcom as well.  As I said, I knew her mostly from The Golden Girls, so it was interesting for me to read about The Betty White Show (One through four) and her appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show.

There were lots of pictures to look at, which were interesting, but all in all, I didn’t find that I heard her voice come through in the story.  It was there a bit, but it seemed more like Betty White telling a story as opposed to Betty White getting into the nitty gritty that is her life.  I was also a bit disappointed as there was not as much about The Golden Girls as I expected there would be.

Interesting, and if you’re a fan, worth reading.  I gave it 3/5 stars.

Vampire Academy – Book Review

Over Easter weekend, I finished reading the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead.  I decided to wait until I finished the series before reviewing it, as it consists of six books, all surrounding the same story, and I believe that there are no plans for further books, meaning that the telling of this story is complete.

The six books in this series, in reading order are: Vampire Academy, Frostbite, Shadow Kiss, Blood Promise, Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice.  The links are to the Goodreads pages, where there is a good synopsis for each one.

As I am reviewing the whole series, it is inevitable that this review will contain some spoilers.  I will however, try to keep them to a minimum and not give away any of the major plot twists in the story.

I will start off by saying that overall, I really enjoyed this series.  I have read the House of Night series (or what’s out of it so far) and I think that the writing in this series was much, much better.  It flowed better, the characters were more believable, and I felt that Mead didn’t try as hard as Cast to appeal to younger people by inserting references to pop culture.  Because of this, these books were much easier to read and held me much better.

The story mostly revolves around our heroine, Rose Hathaway.  She exists in a world where vampires exist.  There are two types of vampires though.  Moroi Vampires and Strigoi Vampires.  Moroi Vampires are living, breathing Vampires, who possess magic.  They are on a whole, good vampires.  They require blood drinking, but only take what they need to survive, using humans that volunteer as “feeders.”

Strigoi Vampires are the bad guys.  They are not born, but made, willingly if a Moroi drinks blood from a human to the point where they kill the human, they become Strigoi.  Humans can also be made into Strigoi by being bitten by one, then fed blood back.  The Strigoi are undead, and apparently without any conscience, ability to feel emotion (aside from anger it seems) and are but shadows of what they were before they were made.

Rose is a Dhampir – half Moroi, half human.  The Dhampirs attend St. Vladimir’s Accademy along with the Moroi.  The Dhampir’s main goal in life really is to protect the Moroi.  The code of conduct that they live by is “they come first.”  The Damphir people are trained to be guardians – basically bodyguards for the Moroi against the Strigoi.  A large reason for this is that Damphirs are unable due to a genetic quirk to conceive children between each other.  They must either mate with Moroi, or a Moroi must mate with a human (which doesn’t happen that often).  So much of the need to protect them is borne of self preservation.

Rose’s best friend is a Moroi named Lissa.  She is the last of the Dragomir family.  The vampire world has several royal families, and upon the death of her parents and brother in a car accident that she and Rose walked away from, she is the last one left.  Rose and Lissa are bonded by a one way bond that basically lets Rose into Lissa’s head, knowing what emotions she is feeling, and eventually being able to see through her eyes.  Rose is training to be a guardian and is actually quite badass.  It is pretty much decided, especially due to their bonding, that upon graduation, Rose will be guarding Lissa.  The bond is quite useful to the reader, as it becomes a way to see what is going on in Lissa’s story when Rose is not physically able to be there, explaining how she’s feeling, as Rose is able to tell that, as well as Rose’s outlook on the situations as she has an ability to see things from outside while being on the inside.  Did that make sense?

So I don’t want to get into the whole story, because I don’t want to give too much away, but this has pretty much everything – action, a very touching and deep rooted love story, deception, magic, devotion, yadda yadda yadda.   There are many twists and turns, Rose is thrown into many situations and always manages to put others before her, dealing with things that are much bigger than her, as well as the usual teenage problems, like parent issues (though hers are a bit more extreme than usual).  She is often her own worst enemy, at times showing great maturity, while still showing how young she really is.  She tends to jump in without thinking at times, though over the course of the books (which last about a year) she grows and matures and becomes an adult.

These books were well written, they kept me interested and wanting more, yet the conclusion was satisfying.  This being said, there is definitely room for another series of books based on these characters in the future, or based around other secondary characters there is room to develop on.

If you’re into YA – or not – and looking for some fairly fast paced reading with characters that you can grow close to and care about, check out these books.  I’m pretty sure they’re all available in paperback now, though I downloaded them all to my Kindle and read them there.

Overall for the series – 4/5 stars.  Worth the time.

Have you read these books?  Loved them? Hated them?  In between? Please let me know in the comments.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – Book Review

 

I just finished reading The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  This trilogy consists of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.

I’ve decided to write about the trilogy as a whole, mostly because they all go together (obviously) and because I don’t know if it’s possible to read the first one and not want to find out what happens to this story and its characters.  So if you haven’t read them, or haven’t read all of them, please note that while I will attempt to do a spoiler free review, there may be a detail or two that slip out.  Due to this, proceed with caution if that sort of thing bugs you.

So this story takes place in the ruins of what was once North America.  It is now called Panem.  It consists of a capitol city surrounded by 12 districts.  District 13 was formerly the nuclear district, but it was completely destroyed during the “Dark Days.”  The Capitol is a big, beautiful city, where there is tons of food.  The districts themselves range from fairly prosperous to destitute.  Each district is responsible for producing something, mostly to sustain the Capitol.  The whole thing is presided over by a sneaky, evil President Snow, whose main goal seems to be crushing the poor, hardworking people of the districts to a pulp all the while getting out of them whatever he can.

Our story centers around Katniss Everdeen.  She is a 16 year old from District 12, who upon the loss of her father in a horrible accident, and the subsequent mental condition of her mother is forced to become the head of the family, which now consists of her, her mother, and her beloved 12 year old sister, Prim.

Katniss is a hunter, and sustains herself and her family on what she is able to hunt down in the woods with her best friend Gale, who just happens to be totally hot.  They hunt together, though hunting is illegal, she manages to sneak under the fence and meet him in the woods where they hunt and gather to trade and make enough to keep their families alive.

Every year, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, where each of the 12 surviving districts must reap one boy and one girl starting at the age of 12 to participate.  It is said to be a reminder of the Dark Days.  Really it is just a reminder of the power that the Capitol holds over everyone.  The tributes that are chosen by a draw are put into an arena, in a variety of different conditions.  Past years have been a complete wilderness, an arctic wasteland, etc.  The tributes are made to basically fend for themselves and kill off everyone else.  The last one standing is the victor, and is given all kinds of money, food and a new house.  Everyone else is…well….dead.

On reaping day, Katniss steps forward to be a tribute in the games when her little sister Prim has her name drawn.  She is joined by Peeta, the bakers son, whom she has a history with even though they have never spoken.

Thrown into this situation, Katniss does what she does best – survives.   She manages to outwit the gamemakers and survive, all the while severely pissing off President Snow.

Due to a series of events, she manages to unwittingly become the face of the rebellion against the Capitol, which has been going on underground for a period of time.  There are rebels everywhere, where we least expect them, and there is extensive planning to overthrow President Snow and the Capitol, and restore freedom to the citizens of Panem.

This is a really great story.  It’s supposed to be geared toward young adults, but I really think anyone would enjoy it.  It’s fast paced enough to keep you interested, with a series of plot twists to keep it exciting.  You get drawn in to the character of Katniss, wanting her to survive.  She is, by the end of this trilogy very emotionally scarred.  What she has been through would make it impossible for her not to be.  She is lucky to have people behind her that are unwavering in their devotion and trust of her.  She would not have made it through the way she did if she didn’t have them.

There is also a love triangle in this book.  It’s not really an intense love triangle, as I get the feeling that she would do just fine without either guy.  But she does have a deep love for both men, and they each suit her and fulfill her needs in different ways.  At the end I perhaps wasn’t entirely pleased with the way this triangle turned out, but I understand that based on her character, things turned out in the way that they were supposed to.  There…is that cryptic enough for you?  Not giving away anything!

Overall, I really enjoyed this series.  I literally couldn’t put it down.  I went from one book to the next without stopping.  The first and second book do tend to leave you hanging just a tiny bit, so you may want to have the next book handy when you finish them.

My score – 5/5 stars.

Have you read this trilogy?  Did you like it? Love it?  Hate it?  Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to discuss.

 

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Book Review

So – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Okay.  I’m not really sure where to start with this one.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away bits of the story, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want to hear anything about it until you do, proceed with caution.

This book had the potential to be really great.  Newly married couple, they get pregnant right away – madly in love with each other, all the hopes and dreams of a new relationship and a marriage about to welcome a baby into the mix.  There is a twist thrown in though that changes everything, forever.  Norah goes into labour in the middle of a snowstorm and David, who is a doctor (albeit the kind that fixes broken bones) is forced to deliver his own child.  The only thing is, this is 1964, and they were unaware that there was not one, but two children ready to enter the world on that snowy night.  The first child is born, a son, who seems perfect in every way.  The second child a daughter, comes next and it is obvious to her father and the nurse that is there to help them, Caroline, that she has Down’s Syndrome.

Driven by secrets and memories from his past, a driving need to protect his wife – who is in and out of it during the birth process and is not aware of what is going on, and their newborn son from the sorrows of having to deal with the life and probable early death of this little girl, he gives her to Caroline, asking her to take her to an institution.  He then tells his wife that their second baby died.

Caroline takes Pheobe, the baby girl, to this institution but is unable to leave her there and instead leaves town and raises Phoebe on her own.

The story goes from there, spanning over a 20+ year time frame.  You see how one act, remaining a secret can corrode the family from the inside out.  There are tons of issues from this – David dealing with this secret and eventually realizing that he did the wrong thing, Norah dealing with the loss of her daughter, and Paul, their son, dealing with having to grow up in this dysfunction, which seems perfect from the outside, but the hairline cracks in the finish grow larger and larger each passing year.

I think the problem that I have with this story is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Sure, the years go by, things happen, people grow, people grow apart.  But these people kept going in circles.  It was just a constant story of people that loved each other but couldn’t show it.  Norah and David, David and Paul, they would take one step forward and then 50 steps back.

To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t stand the character Norah.  I expected to be sorry for her and to like her, just because of her circumstances.  Alas, this was not to be.  I have never lost a child, thank God, and I can imagine that it would be the worst pain ever in the world.  It would take time to get over.  In a way, you would never get over it.  But Norah just comes across as weak.  When we experience loss in our lives, we deal with it, and we move on.  I know that saying that makes it sound easy, which it isn’t.  But we do what we have to do to move past and live life for the living.  Norah never got past the “death” of her daughter, but instead of turning to her family and her husband for help, she resorted to drinking, affairs, and whatever other escape method she could come up with.

The story of David was actually quite tragic.  Coming from a poor past, where he lost his sister when she was very young, he truly believed he was doing the right thing when he sent Phoebe away.  Of course he realized that he never should have, but he ended up living out the rest of his existence with this huge weight on his chest that he was never able to get rid of.  Yes, his action was what started all of the dysfunction in this family, but I don’t like how the story is laid out with the blame placed entirely on him.  Things happen to people in life.  It is how we deal with these things that shape who we are.

Paul actually bugged me quite a bit too.  It seemed to me that David loved Paul more than anything in the world, and tried to connect with him time and time again.  His concern when Paul decided to pursue music was born out of a true concern for his son.  Not that he didn’t recognize his talent, not that he didn’t believe that he couldn’t do something with it.  Coming from a past where you had nothing makes you want to make sure that your kids grow up with something.  It’s hard to get past that.  Paul came across to me like a bit of a spoiled brat that pouted when he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear from his father and turned it around to his father not loving him.  What he failed to realize that his father loved him enough to ask the hard questions and take the hard stance.

The one person in this story that actually got a great deal in life was Phoebe.  Yes, she has Down’s Syndrome.  She has difficulties, and she will never really be able to support and look after herself.  But she was raised in a loving environment, by a woman that was strong enough and capable enough to care for her, and fight for her rights to education and health care.  Even though Caroline was not her biological mother, she loved her as much as, or possibly more than she would have if she had carried her herself.  Nothing in this story shows me that Norah had the tools to deal with raising a special needs child, and I have a feeling that she would have let that destroy the family just as much as losing her altogether did.

Overall it was good.  Frustrating, yes.  But good.  Not great.  I read the book in a few days, which says to me that it flowed nicely and was interesting enough to keep my attention.  I just feel that with a basic story like this, there were so many possibilities, and I was left at the end saying…..meh.  But hey, there must have been something good in the writing, in order to cause all these reactions, emotions and ramblings from me – good or bad.