WWW Wednesday: 15 May 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Currently reading: Two books,  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

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I’ve made some progress with D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. His mother Lydia is seriously ill with cancer and Lawrence has started to write a novel to include her girlhood, and her marriage moving on to his own upbringing. By October 1910 he was calling the book ‘Paul Morel‘ – which later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’ It will take me several weeks (at least) before I finish the book as I’m reading short sections each day.

Before the Fall won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Before the Fall

Description:

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT. BUT FATE IS BLIND.

A private jet plunges into the sea.

The only survivors are down-on his luck artist Scott Burroughs and JJ Bateman, the four year old son of a super-rich TV executive.

For saving the boy, Scott is suddenly a hero.

And then, as the official investigation is rapidly overtaken by a media frenzy, it seems he may also be a villain.

Why was he on the plane in the first place, and why did it crash?

I’ve read 72% of this book so far. It begins well, but then it becomes rather disjointed, as it relates each character’s back story in some detail. So any suspense that the opening had built up is fading as I read about each person’s life story up to the time they entered the plane. But with nearly a quarter of the book left to read I’m hoping the tension will rise.

Recently finished:

Mrs Whistler

Mrs Whistler by Matthew Pamplin, a novel is based on the life of the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his muse Maud Franklin, covering the years from 1876 to 1880. I loved this book and am in the middle of writing a post about it  – I may finish it today, or tomorrow …

My next book could be:

It could be Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, the basis for the BAFTA-winning Killing Eve TV series. I’ve had this book for a while – after I watched Killing Eve, which I loved, and it seems a good time to read it now. The second series began on 7th April 2019 on BBC America and all I know so far is that it will be shown here in the UK – soon!

Codename Villanelle

She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her, and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

Originally published as ebook singles: Codename Villanelle, Hollowpoint, Shanghai and Odessa.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Pan|First Paperback Edition edition (1 Jan. 2011)|431 pages|5*

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is an outstanding book! It took her more than ten years to research and write and has won numerous awards and been made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Henrietta Lacks, and Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot.

I found it all fascinating, but harrowing to read in parts, from all the details of Henrietta’s life, how she was treated for cervical cancer in 1951, when she was just 30, to her death nine months later.  During her diagnosis and surgery cancer cells taken from her tumour were cultured and amazingly those cells multiplied, doubling every twenty four hours. They became known as HeLa cells (pronounced hee-lah) and have formed the basis for much medical research and drug development ever since. It is also a history of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family. It raises many issues not just regarding ethics, but also regarding science, race and class.

Cancer treatment in 1951 with radium was brutal, but what made it worse was that Henrietta was a black woman, living in near-poverty in Baltimore. Black oral history from at least the 1800s tells of kidnapping black people for research and there were disturbing truths behind the stories – doctors did test drugs on slaves and carried out operations to develop surgical techniques. In 1951 Henrietta was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a hospital built for the benefit of Baltimore’s poor, but black residents suspected it had been ‘built in a poor black neighborhood  for the benefit of scientists – to give them easy access to potential research subjects.’ (page 190)

The Lacks family were poor and they misunderstood what was happening. They became fearful and distressed, and some of them were aggressive when they realised with horror that Henrietta still lived on in a way they couldn’t understand. They had no health insurance and received no financial benefit from the research done on the HeLa cells. Rebecca Skloot’s investigation reveals the mental anguish they went through and her account is so very moving. In particular her times with Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah are heart breaking as she records the terrible struggles Deborah had to overcome. It was only years later that Deborah understood that it was her mother’s cancer cells that were still ‘alive’ and not her own normal cells.

‘So we don’t have the thing that made her cells grow forever?’ Deborah asked. Christoph shook his head. ‘Now you tell me after all these years!’ Deborah yelled. ‘Thank God, cause I was wonderin.’

She pointed at a cell on the screen that looked longer than the others. ‘This one is cancer, right? And the rest are her normal ones?’

‘Actually, HeLa is all just cancer,’ Christoph said.

‘Wait a minute,’ she said,’you mean none of our mother’s regular cells still livin? Just her cancer cells?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Oh! See, and all this time I thought my mother regular cells still livin!’ (page 302)

Rebecca Skloot based her book on an impressive amount of research  – archival documents, scientific and historical research, including legal documents and medical records. She also used Deborah’s personal journals as well as conducting more than a thousand hours of interviews with Henrietta’s family and friends, and lawyers, ethicists, scientists and journalists who have written about the Lacks family.

This is not a dry scientific account – although there is a lot of scientific detail in the book (not all of which I’m sure I fully understood). It is a remarkable and personal record of the Lacks family that comes to life through dialogue, by adopting the language with which each person spoke and wrote. She explains that where she wrote in the first person using Deborah’s voice she was quoting what she said, only edited for length and occasionally clarity. It is brilliantly written, giving me much to think over – one of the most moving books of non-fiction I’ve read!

 

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is one of the books that I’m currently reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

Prologue

The Woman in the Photograph

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep read. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.”

Blurb (Amazon)

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . .

Rebecca Skloot’s fascinating account is the story of the life, and afterlife, of one woman who changed the medical world forever. Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

~~~

So far, I’ve read 34% and I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It tells Henrietta’s life story, explains the details of her cancer, and the medical details of how her cells were grown, how they have stayed alive and multiplied. It also considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells, racism and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family.

I know ‘amazing’ is such an over used word – but this book really is amazing!

If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, does it tempt you too?

My First Review: My Goodness by Joe Queenan

I was wondering about doing a Top Ten Tuesday post tomorrow but the topic coming up on 23 April : The First Ten Books I Reviewed, interested me more then tomorrow’s topicI remembered that the very first one was I wrote was several years before I began this blog – it was on Amazon UK in August 2001. When I checked Amazon this morning I couldn’t find my review, but I had saved it in my Word documents and I thought I’d post it today. It is a review of Joe Queenan’s My Goodness.

Entertaining and thought provoking

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‘This book is sub-titled ‘A cynic’s short-lived search for sainthood‘. I hadn’t heard of Joe Queenan before, but he describes himself as ‘an acerbic, mean-spirited observer of the human condition’ and gives many examples from his earlier books and newspaper articles to illustrate this. In his search for sainthood he set out to recognise what a horrible man he had been all his life and decided to transform himself into the very best human being he could be. He defines goodness as the conscious act of using all or most of one’s intellectual and emotional resources to better both the human and the planetary condition and differentiates ‘goodness’ from ‘niceness’.

As he is American some of the references were unknown to me and in particular his lists of apologies for his irresponsible journalism were repetitive and tedious. However, I did like his accounts of practising random kindness and senseless acts of beauty and found them amusing and ironic.

The main thrust of the book illustrates his distinction between actions that he describes as being motivated by a genuine love of humanity and good deeds carried out to salve one’s conscience or for public relations purposes. He does this relentlessly by poking fun at so-called do-gooders, environmentalists, and how to shop to help promote good causes. One of the funniest things is his account of his efforts to save water by taking his own sheets and towels with him to use in hotels, leaving a note for the maid that the bed linen would not need to be changed because he’d slept on the floor and the towels wouldn’t need washing because he’d brought his own. He then realised that the maid might not understand English and would end up stripping the bed and tossing the towels in the laundry anyway.

His account of how to talk to your Guardian Angel is perhaps the funniest part of the book. Read it to find out what God’s answer is on how to make investments more socially responsible.’

My Friday Post: A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre

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Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of my TBRs, A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre. It’s non-fiction about four young British soldiers who were trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. 

A Foreign Field

It begins with a Prologue:

Prologue

The glutinous mud of Picardy caked at my shoe-soles like mortar, and damp seeped into my socks as the rain spilled from an ashen sky. Ina patch of cow-trodden pasture beside the little town of Le Catelet we stared out from beneath a canopy of umbrellas at a pitted chalk rampart, the ivy-strangled remnant of a vast medieval castle, to which a small plaque had been nailed: ‘Ici ont été fusillés quatre soldats Britannique.’ Four British soldiers were executed by firing squad on this spot.

Followed by Chapter One – The Angels of Mons:

On a balmy evening at the end of August in the year 1914, four young soldiers of the British army – two English and two Irish  – crouched in terror under a hedgerow near the Somme river in northern France, painfully adjusting to the realisation that they were profoundly lost, adrift in a briefly tranquil no-man’s land somewhere between their retreating comrades and the rapidly advancing German army, the largest concentration of armed men the world had ever seen.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Local gossips thought that Jeanne was a’racy’ type; she smoked cigarettes, drove an automobile without gloves on, and treated everybody with exactly the same direct, penetrating and faintly lofty manner, usually from the saddle.

~~~

I enjoyed reading Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily, so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

WWW Wednesday: 27 March 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


I’m currently reading:

A Life of My Own: A Biographer’s Life by Claire Tomalin – a book that Marina @ Finding Time To Write, so kindly sent to me. I’ve been reading this a few chapters at a time for some while and am getting to the end of this book. This morning I read about the death of her second daughter, Susanna – such a moving tribute.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz – I’ve only read a few chapters so far. This is a Sherlock Holmes novel but without both Holmes and Watson – Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty have fallen to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls. The discovery of a brutally murdered body in a leafy suburb is investigated by Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase  and Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman, historical fiction, the first of her trilogy about the medieval princes of Gwynedd and the monarchs of England. I’m reading this on my Kindle and finding it just as compelling reading as her wonderful book The Sunne in Splendour. It tells the story of Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, and his rise to power and fame. So far, I’m reading about his childhood and teenage years.

I’ve recently finished:

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham, which I first read two years ago. A very special book that is just as amazing to read as it was for the first time.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, a gothic novel due to be published on 4 April 2019. I loved her Dark Matter, a ghost story in the form of a diary set in the Arctic and so expected to love this one too. It’s not as chilling, but is just as atmospheric and full of mystery. I’ll be writing my review very soon.

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened. Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

My next book could be:

At the moment I don’t know. But it could be The Evidence Against You by Gillian Mcallister, due to be published on 18 April 2019.

The Evidence Against You

It’s the day Izzy’s father will be released from jail.

She has every reason to feel conflicted – he’s the man who gave her a childhood filled with happy memories.

But he has also just served seventeen years for the murder of her mother.

Now, Izzy’s father sends her a letter. He wants to talk, to defend himself against each piece of evidence from his trial.

But should she give him the benefit of the doubt?

Or is her father guilty as charged, and luring her into a trap?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2019 TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Books On My Spring 2019 TBR. Some of these books have been on my shelves unread for a long time, some are new additions and others are e-books from NetGalley that will be published soon. I’d like to think I’ll read all these books soon but realistically I know that I’ll only read a few of them this Spring!

Broken Ground by Val McDermid – DCI Karen Pirie investigates the discovery of a body in the remote depths of the Scottish Highlands.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Capote reconstructs the crime and the investigation into the murders of the four members of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn – a story of life in a mining community in rural South Wales as Huw Morgan is preparing to leave the valley where he had grown up. He tells of life before the First World War.

On the Beach by Neville Shute – set in Melbourne, Australia this is a novel about the survivors of an atomic war as radiation poisoning moves toward Australia from the North.

Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas – the story of a teenage girl, Ruby, who runs away from home to live with her grandmother, Iris in Cairo.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman – set in 13th century Wales this is the story of Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, and his rise to power and fame and his love for Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John. 

A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty – crime reporter Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy after a beautiful law student is shot in Savannah, Georgia.

A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody – set in Yorkshire in 1928, when  amateur detective, Kate Shackleton investigates a crime in Brontë country.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – on the day of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true.

The Island by Ragnor Jonasson – Nordic noir, set on the island of Elliðaey,  off the Icelandic coast. Four friends visit the island during a long, hot summer but only three return. Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate.