Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks went to John Hopkins Hospital in the 1950's for abnormal bleeding she was having. The gynecologist diagnosed her as having cervical cancer and ordered a biopsy. While having the procedure, the doctor took part of her cervix and sent it to Dr. George Gey. Dr. Gey was performing tests on cells to see if he could make them grow. Henrietta's cells had a life of their own. After years of testing and failing, Dr. Gey finally had a group of cells that stayed alive and continued multiplying, allowing him and others in his field, to use them in different medical tests. Henrietta's cells were called HeLa, based on the first 2 initials of her first and last name. Through the use of tests run using HeLa the vaccine for polio was developed, along with many other medical advances. No one thought anything of it, and the scientists were thrilled to have this breakthrough. The only thing was, they never got Henrietta or anyone in her family's permission to take that sample during surgery. In fact, the family didn't know anything about it.

I was not sure what to expect with this book but it definitely was not the amazing story I have been consumed with for the past 5 days. At times funny, heartbreaking, and astounding, Skloot takes you to Baltimore, where she attempts to speak to Henrietta's family for her book, to the basement of John Hopkins Hospital, to a mental institute where Henrietta's one daughter died. It is astounding to me that these cells were taken without any one's permission, scientists have made numerous medical advances and money working with them, while Henrietta's own children and grandchildren could not afford an education or health insurance. The trials this family has been through will always stay with me.

The one point that really made me fall into this book, was that race did not come into it. Henrietta was a black woman. The scientists for the most part were white men. But her daughter, Deborah, who is one of the focal points of this amazing story, understands that what her family went through has nothing to do with black or white, even though her brothers think at times think otherwise. It has to do with doctors thinking they know what is best, and us, as patients, going along with what they say because we feel they really do know best. It has to do with family and the ties that bind and some times break. Deborah is 50 years old and has no memory of her mother whatsoever because she was an infant when the cancer took her life. All people ever want to ask her and talk to her about are HeLa cells; and she just wants to know what her mom smelled like, what was she like as a person? I wish I could give this amazing story more than 5 stars. Every time I have any test done now I will wonder, are they running tests on my cells as well? And do they have the right to do that at all?

5 stars

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray is a young man so obsessed with his own youth and good looks that after a painting of him is done, makes a pact with the devil. The pact is that Gray gives his soul, and he stays young forever, his portrait aging.

I think if I could have focused on this more I would have enjoyed it better. Lord Henry is so very winded at times and goes on and on, but what he says is very interesting. I just couldn't focus on it enough to enjoy it.

3 stars

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They Never Die Quietly by D.M. Annechino

Detective Sami Rizzo and her partner are called in to investigate a series of murders. Women and there small children are being abducted, the mother found 3 days later crucified on a cross outside of a church with their hearts removed, the children sropped off in public places where they will be easily found, unharmed.

Not at all entertaining for me. Very contrived. You know who the killer is, why he is doing it, and how the book is going to end about 1/4 of the way through. I kept reading waiting for a big twist that never came. Waste of time.

2 stars

Monday, March 15, 2010

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow has just been released from prison and is on his way home to rebuild his life with his wife Laura. A Few days before his release however, he is called into the warden's office and finds out that his wife and best friend, who had a job waiting for Shadow, are both dead, victims of a car crash. Shadow receives early release so he can attend to matters. On the plane ride to the funeral, Shadow is seated next to a man who goes by the name of Wednesday, and who offer Shadow a job that seems too good to be true. Shadow is not interested, but Wednesday keeps showing up where he shouldn't be, and Shadow finally relents. What ensues is a war among the gods of old, brought from their home countries to America by immigrants, and the gods of the new age, Technology, Media, etc, who are trying to take over. As Shadow and Wednesday go all over the US trying to recruit the gods of old to fight for their cause, the gods of the new age are following their every move, and every one waits for the storm to hit.

Not usually my kind of book but I loved this! Great story, great characters, I found myself slowing down at the end because I didn't want it to end. I wish there would have been more detail about the gods of old, but a highly satisfying read. If Stephen King wrote a book without his unnecessary, self-indulgent rambling, this would be it. Excellent.

5 stars

Monday, March 8, 2010

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew has a pretty ordinary life. Works as an accountant, is engaged to be married, and lives his new life in London after moving from Scotland to take a job offer. All of that is turned inside out when he is walking with his fiance to have dinner with her important boss and an injured girls appears out of nowhere in the street in front of him. Against his fiance's wishes he takes the girl, Door, to his apartment to care for her. She insists on him not calling for an ambulance or police and asks him do do her a favor. Richard sets across London with her directions in hand to find the marquis de Carabas. After she leaves he tries to resume his old life but finds that he can't. No one can see him, seriously. The only people who can are the homeless of London. He then sets off on a journey to find Door to try and get his life back. This trip takes him through London Underground, where the people who have fallen through the cracks live. It is an adventure like no other, nothing Richard can quite believe, but then he has no choice if he wants his old life back.
Very....interesting. This is my first Gaiman book. It was kind of bizarre, but had a lot of colorful characters (Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, Islington, the marquis, Hunter, Old Bailey, etc). Even though it was so incredibly strange, after awhile I didn't even stop to think to myself "this is ridiculous". It drew me in and I just accepted everything I was reading. I hated some characters, and loved others. I would really like to see a sequel to this, or a story about Islington and what happened to the city of Atlantis. I will be reading more by Mr. Gaiman. It's kind of fun to lose yourself in a bizarre world sometimes.

5 stars

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

George and Lenny are childhood friends going through California doing work on ranch's to make some money. George is the brains of the pair, quick thinking, always looking out for Lenny, who has the mind of a child. When they go to work at their most recent ranch, George warns Lenny not to get into any trouble, to stay quiet and just do his work. George has painted a picture for he and Lenny: a ranch of their own, with chickens and pigs, alfalfa and rabbits that Lenny will be in charge of caring for. But the ranch owners son hones in on Lenny's lack of wits right off and seems to have it out for him, then there is the ranch owners young wife, who seems to hang around all the men and try to stir up trouble. Lenny tries to do what George asks of him, but things get out of control for him, and George has to make the ultimate decision on what do do about Lenny.
How depressing!! I am sure every one has read this book but me. I loved what a great amazing story East of Eden was, so I thought I would try this one out too. I felt sorry for Lenny, he didn't know any better, but I can see why George felt he had to do something before things got any worse, but I never thought he would do what he did. Lots of symbolism here, but I won't go into it in case someone hasn't read it. Strange book...

3 stars

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Dr. Andrew Marlowe receives a patient recommendation from a friend of his on a painter named Robert Oliver. Oliver was recently arrested for trying to stab a painting entitled The Swan Thieves. Oliver speaks to Marlowe only once, upon his first admittance to the psych hospital where he will be treated and refuses to speak again. Marlowe goes above and beyond, talking to Oliver's ex-wife, ex-lover, ex-colleagues and ex-acquaintances to try to get to the root of his problems. In the meantime, Oliver stays in his room at the hospital, being the perfect patient, painting the same woman over and over and over again. Who is this woman? Why does she have such a profound affect on Robert? And is she what drove him to the attack on the painting? Marlowe goes off in search of all of these answers to help his troubled patient, and the answers are not at all what he expected.

I listened to the audio version of this. I found the story a little hard to follow. The narrators of the letters from Paris in the late 1800's reminded me so much of Antonio Banderas' voice I would giggle when they came on. The reading was very well done; Treat Williams as the lead Andrew Marlowe. However the narration and performance of one of the characters was so poignant, so strong, and so heartbreaking, that it garnered this review another star. Anne Heche as the voice of Kate Oliver, Robert's ex-wife. Her appearance is fairly brief, but her reading was the icing on the cake for me. I was almost in tears by the end of her section. I think if I would have read the book instead of listening to it I would not have finished it.

3 stars