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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is the aforementioned review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  This is probably one of the best non fiction books I've ever read, both for subject matter and readability.  It was very popular when it first came out, and I heard great things about it from those who read it.  It wasn't until it was recently returned to the library that I thought I'd give it a try.

Through massive research, investigation and reporting, it tells the story of the woman, Henrietta Lacks, whose cells spawned countless cell lines that still live today over half a century since her death.  Her cells led to the development of countless research and scientific breakthroughs: from vaccines to genome mapping and everything in between.

Skloot relates the story of Henrietta by framing it within the larger tale of her decade long journey to unearth the facts of the case and find answers for Henrietta's family and descendants.  It is a story that takes many, sometimes bizarre, turns.

The …

Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain by Diane Monroe Smith

For someone who doesn't read non fiction, I've been reading an awful lot of it lately.  For whatever reason, it seems non fiction has been capturing and holding my attention better than fiction has been.  I can't remember if I read this before or after The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (to be reviewed in an upcoming post), but it's getting its post first.

Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a very long title.  An aside: as a longtime 'name nerd,' I have to say that I love the name Frances Caroline.

Joshua Chamberlain was a seminary graduate and professor who felt called to serve his country during her hour(s) of greatest need: the American Civil War.  His military service was distinguished.  Some say that he single-handedly changed the tide of the war at the Battle of Gettysburg where he led his Maine regiment in a brave and dangerous charge against a Confederate regiment as it threatened to over…

Wide Open by Deborah Coates

As you can see by the many months since the last posted review, I haven't been reading many books.  I started this book sometime during the summer.  The morning I started this book, I read the first 100 pages (it's a fast read and a page turner), and then I had to go to work and after that I didn't pick it back up again until Hurricane Sandy blew through at the end of October.  I finished another book during the storm and then finished this one while I waited for the internet to come back.

Wide Open is a supernatural, suspense thriller; as far as I can tell, its Deborah Coates' first print novel, although she has two previous e-books that come up in an Amazon search.  For those who liked Wide Open (of whom I am one), there's a sequel, Deep Down, that was set for release in March of 2013 the last time I checked.

Hallie Michaels returns home on compassionate leave from Afghanistan and when she steps off the plane, she's greeted by the ghost of her sister, Dell, w…

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

Downton Abbey is a British, Edwardian period drama, that airs first in Britain and then airs an edited version of the British series on PBS.  The dvd set of the TV show offers Downton Abbey in all its un-edited, original, British glory.  I watched the first series last fall on a whim in the midst of my Jane Austen/Elizabeth Gaskell film adaptation obsession and enjoyed the show.  Earlier this year, the show's second series aired on PBS; however, I chose to wait for the dvd because, well, why watch the edited version when you can wait a week or two and watch it all, unedited, on dvd.  I haven't yet watched the second series; in the meantime, I found this book, The World of Downton Abbey, in the online catalog, and I read it.  It is really a must read for all fans, especially the obsessive and hardcore, of the show.

Admittedly the books starts off a little slow, but give it a few pages, and it'll pull you right in.  The book offers a historical overview of the society, cultu…

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba

According to the book jacket, That Woman is the first biography of the duchess written by a woman.

Beginning with the duchess's birth in Pennsylvania and her childhood years in Maryland, the early chapters recount a difficult and precarious childhood fraught with worry over financial security due to her father's death just a few months following Wallis's birth.  Sebba also recounts the duchess's first difficult marriage to an abusive military officer and their subsequent divorce and the years spent travelling all over the world while waiting for both the right time and the funds for a divorce.

The duchess's second marriage was a much more contented match to a gentleman who treated her far better than her first husband; however, the union was waylaid by the couple's introduction to Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, who steadily developed an obsession with and dependence upon Wallis that eventually led to both Wallis's second divorce and the k…

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer

Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer was the book from which I had to take a hiatus to read The Obamas.  The first several chapters, especially the ones recounting the genealogical history of the Hathaway and Shakespeare families, were fascinating.  Then the middle chapters started to drag.  When I came back to the book, the remaining chapters sucked me right back in.
Shakespeare scholar Greer attempts to shed new light on the controversial figure of Ann Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s wife.  Hathaway has long been maligned as the spinster strumpet who seduced her boy-husband and entrapped him into marriage with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  These are charges usually made by other scholars based upon little to no proof.  Scholars also contend that Shakespeare was himself embittered by the marriage and grew to resent the wife from whom he may (or may not) have spent long periods of time physically estranged while he pursued playing in theater and writing—assumptions again made based up…

The Obamas by Jodi Kantor

I'm sure many of you are wondering where I've been for the past couple months, and why haven't I been posting.  I haven't been reading nearly as much as I used to--lately, it's been hard for me to finish a book that I start, and I've found that non-fiction (a genre I hardly ever read) is what I tend to finish reading.  It's been annoying me very much that I just can't get into a fiction book because there are so many (as there usually are) that I want to read that sound and look so good and there are so few hours in the day!  I have a few reviews backlogged of some non-fiction books that I've read since the new year started.  Here's hoping the fiction dry spell dries up soon...
New York Times correspondent, Jodi Kantor, who has covered the Obamas since 2007, offers an in-depth portrait of the first couple.
I don’t usually read non-fiction, and I’ve written on this blog before that usually what happens when I start a non-fiction book is that I ge…

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is the well known British author of the Inpector Rebus series and other novels.  The Complaints introduces a new character, Inspector Malcolm Fox.  The second Fox novel caught my eye on the list of new arrivals on the online catalog, and I decided to read the first one before I read the second one.  Overall, this is a good mystery with old fashioned detective work--gathering of information and following the threads of connections until the true story emerges.  In a way it feels like this kind of story--one where the main character's career is targeted for a take down as part of a deal to make something else go away--that comes later in a series rather than right out of the gate in the first book.  But no matter: it makes for a compelling read.

The setting is the gritty city of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the early months of 2009 while the city is in the midst of the real estate bust and teetering toward an economic downturn.  These developments play into the plot mechanism…

Shock Wave by John Sandford

I know, I know.  It's been a very long time since I've posted a review--because it's a very long time since I've read a book.  I'd started a few, but finished none and was fretting about how long this dry spell would last when along comes Shock Wave by John Sandford.  It is the latest installment in the Virgil Flowers series, and it picks up about six months after the end of the last novel in the series.  There was a wait for the book--and I think there still might be a long list of holds for the book.  It was a very fast read--it only took me a few days to read it.

Shock Wave is so titled because of the rash of bombings at the story's center.  It tells of the latest, big investigation for Virgil Flowers, the sometime writer and eternal fisherman who is also the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's top investigator and the governor's "third most favorite troublemaker."

On his day off, Virgil is called in to investigate when a bomb deton…