Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

First sentence:

"They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles."

Description:

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fuku--the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim--until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.

With dazzling energy and insight, Junot Diaz immerses us in the uproarius lives of our hero Oscar, his runaway sister Lola, and their ferocious beauty-queen mother Belicia, and in the family's epic journey from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey's Bergen-line and back again. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humor, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao presents an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and the endless human capacity to persevere--and to risk it all--in the name of love.

A true literary triumph, this novel confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting writers of our time. -- from the inside flap.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book about a Dominican-American man trying to find his way in New Jersey and Santo Domingo.

Date read: 11/7/2013
Book #: 32
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 1594489580
ISBN-13: 9781594489587
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Year: 2007
# of pages: 335
Binding: Hardcover
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

First sentence:

"There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape."

Description:

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists knew 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 fertilziation, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remain virtually unknown buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey from the 'colored' ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia--a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo--to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family--past and present--is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family--especially Henrietta's daughter Deborath, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Had they killed her to harvest her cells? And if her mother was so importatn to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance?

Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks capture the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

I learned much from reading this book, not only about medical history but also about ethics and about a family left in the dark for far too long.

Date read: 10/26/2013
Book #: 31
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Nonfiction

ISBN-10: 1400052173
ISBN-13: 9781400052172
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Year: 2010
# of pages: 328
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fool by Christopher Moore

First sentence:

"'Tosser!' cried the raven."

Description:

"'This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . . If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!'

Verily speaks Christopher Moore, much beloved scrivener and peerless literary jester, who hath writteneth much that is of grand wit and belly-busting mirth, including such laurelled bestsellers of the Times of Olde Newe Yorke as Lamb, A Dirty Job, and You Suck (no offense). Now he takes on no less than the legendary Bard himself (with the utmost humility and respect) in a twisted and insanely funny tale of a moronic monarch and his deceitful daughters—a rousing story of plots, subplots, counterplots, betrayals, war, revenge, bared bosoms, unbridled lust . . . and a ghost (there's always a bloody ghost), as seen through the eyes of a man wearing a codpiece and bells on his head
Fool

A man of infinite jest, Pocket has been Lear's cherished fool for years, from the time the king's grown daughters—selfish, scheming Goneril, sadistic (but erotic-fantasy-grade-hot) Regan, and sweet, loyal Cordelia—were mere girls. So naturally Pocket is at his brainless, elderly liege's side when Lear—at the insidious urging of Edmund, the bastard (in every way imaginable) son of the Earl of Gloucester—demands that his kids swear their undying love and devotion before a collection of assembled guests. Of course Goneril and Regan are only too happy to brownnose Dad. But Cordelia believes that her father's request is kind of . . . well . . . stupid, and her blunt honesty ends up costing her her rightful share of the kingdom and earns her a banishment to boot.

Well, now the bangers and mash have really hit the fan. The whole damn country's about to go to hell in a handbasket because of a stubborn old fart's wounded pride. And the only person who can possibly make things right . . . is Pocket, a small and slight clown with a biting sense of humor. He's already managed to sidestep catastrophe (and the vengeful blades of many an offended nobleman) on numerous occasions, using his razor-sharp mind, rapier wit . . . and the equally well-honed daggers he keeps conveniently hidden behind his back. Now he's going to have to do some very fancy maneuvering—cast some spells, incite a few assassinations, start a war or two (the usual stuff)—to get Cordelia back into Daddy Lear's good graces, to derail the fiendish power plays of Cordelia's twisted sisters, to rescue his gigantic, gigantically dim, and always randy friend and apprentice fool, Drool, from repeated beatings . . . and to shag every lusciously shaggable wench who's amenable to shagging along the way.

Pocket may be a fool . . . but he's definitely not an idiot." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this version of "King Lear" as told by the Fool, with various cameos from other plays (witches from "Macbeth"). I especially liked Pocket's interactions with Lear and Cordelia.

Date read: 10/25/2013
Book #: 30
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0060590319
ISBN-13: 9780060590314
Publisher: William Morrow
Year: 2009
# of pages: 304
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

First sentence:

"The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child."

Description:

"A young governess is left in sole charge of two charming and beautiful orphans. As she begins to see and hear strange things, she grows increasingly uneasy, and is swiftly drawn into a frightening battle against unspeakable evil. Forced to take action, the governess will soon discover terrible consequences."

My thoughts:

I liked this chilling book about a haunted house and its inhabitants. I especially liked the interactions between the governess and the boy.

Date read: 10/10/2013
Book #: 29
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Horror

ISBN-10: 0141194375
ISBN-13: 9780141194370
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year: 1898; 1994 [this edition]
# of pages: 121
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing page

Thursday, September 26, 2013

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

First sentence:

"I sat in my office, nursing a glass of hooch and idly cleaning my automatic."


Description:

Bestselling author and master storyteller Neil Gaiman here presents a breathtaking collection of tales that may chill or amuse readers -- but always embrace the unexpected:

  • A teenage boy who has trouble talking to girls finds himself at a rather unusual party.
  • A sinister jack-in-the-box haunts the lives of the children who owned it.
  • A boy raised in a graveyard makes a discovery and confronts the much more troubling world of the living
  • A stray cat fights a mighty battle to protect his adopted family from a terrible evil.
These eleven stories illuminate the real and the fantastic, and will be welcomed with great joy by Neil Gaiman's many fans as well as by readers coming to his work for the first time." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

I liked all the stories. My favorites included Case of Blackbirds, Troll Bridge, Chivalry and Sunbird.

Date read: 9/25/2013
Book #: 27
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Urban Fantasy

ISBN-10: 0061186473
ISBN-13: 9780061186479
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 2007
# of pages: 260
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Monday, September 16, 2013

Virtuosity by Terry Bisson

Description:

"LOS ANGELES, 1999.

The idea is to create the perfect cop through virtual reality training - a game. But before you can create the perfect cop, you've got to create the perfect criminal. Sid 6.7 is a digitally enhanced humanoid - a composite of Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. In a computerised world of crime he's an unstoppable killer. The only problem is that Sid 6.7 isn't sticking with the program. He wants out - he wants to kill in the real world, and what Sid 6.7 wants, he gets. He's hit the streets of L.A., and there's only one man intelligent enough, and desperate enough, to go after him. Parker Barnes is a former cop convicted of murdering his family's killers. He's been used as a guinea pig in virtual reality training and he's come up against Sid 6.7 before. Now Parker's got his ticket out of prison on one condition: take Sid 6.7 down for real."

My thoughts:

I liked this sci-fi thriller about virtual intelligence combined with a physical body. Someday, I'll see the movie this book was based on. 

Date read: 9/15/2013
Book #: 26
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: SF/Thriller

ISBN-10: 0671537520
ISBN-13:9780671537524
Publisher: Pocket Books
Year: 1995
# of pages: 213
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
LibraryThing page

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mystery Cats by Lillian Jackson Braun, et al

First sentence:

"When my sister and I returned from our vacation and learned that our eccentric neighbor in the wheel chair had been removed to a mental hospital, we were sorry but hardly surprised" [from "Susu and the 8:30 Ghost." by Lillian Jackson Braun]

Description:

"WHEN MURDER IS THE CAT'S MEOW...

This murderously entertaining collection assembles sixteen purr-fect tales of crime and cats by some of today's best mystery writers. Lillian Jackson Bruan's charming Siamese SuSu is the first to smell a rat in ta chilling tale of two spinster sisters and an eccentric neighbor. Edward D Hoch's favorite theif, Nick Velvet, accepts a commission to catnap a pampered pet named Sparkle and ends up a whisker away from death. Ruth Rendell leads an unwary motorist up the garden path to an elderly cat owner's cottage, giving a sinster twist to the old maxim, 'an eye for an eye.' These, along with thirteen other purebred stories of felines and felonies, make for spell-binding reading for mystery fans and cat lovers alike! " -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this set of feline mysteries.  Favorite stories included "The Lady Wore Black" by Hugh B. Cave and "The Theft of the Mafia Cat" by Edward D. Hoch.

Date read: 8/20/2013
Book #: 25
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Mystery

ISBN-10: 0451171012
ISBN-13: 9780451171016
Publisher: Signet
Year: 1991
# of pages: 256
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
LibraryThing page