WWW Wednesday: 5 June 2019

IMG_1384-0

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: I’m still making slow progress with reading  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen,  but I’ve almost finished Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. So, I’ve started to read Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop, one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list.

Those Who Are Loved is historical fiction, set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars. I know very little about Greece during the Second World War so I’m finding it very interesting, but it is very slow going. It begins as Themis remembers her life and the conflicts within her family as well as their experience of the war.

I’ve recently finished The Ruin by Dervla Mactiernan and will be writing more about it in a later post.

Ruin

Blurb:

It’s been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he’s never forgotten the two children she left behind…

When Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget – until Jack’s sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an ‘accidental’ overdose twenty years ago – of Jack and Maude’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything…

My next book could be:

I think, but I could always change my mind, it’ll be Anything You Do Say by Gillian Mcallister, another book that is on my 20 Books of Summer list.

Anything you do say

Blurb:

Joanna is an avoider. So far she has spent her adult life hiding bank statements and changing career aspirations weekly.

But then one night Joanna hears footsteps on the way home. Is she being followed? She is sure it’s him; the man from the bar who wouldn’t leave her alone. Hearing the steps speed up Joanna turns and pushes with all of her might, sending her pursuer tumbling down the steps and lying motionless on the floor.

Now Joanna has to do the thing she hates most – make a decision. Fight or flight? Truth or lie? Right or wrong?

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

Reading in May

I’ve been reading eight books in May, and have finished reading six of them, but only reviewed four of them:

  1. The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley 4* –  a family saga spanning generations  revealing the dark secret hidden behind the locked door of the Butterfly Room
  2. Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin 5* – not about his mother, but about him and his model and mistress, Maud Franklin
  3. Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings 3* – the basis for the TV series Killing Eve 
  4. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal 5* –  the story of Iris who dreamed of being an artist and her involvement with the Pre-Raphaelites

The other two books I finished are:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which I didn’t enjoy and I’m just writing a few notes here about it. It won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and was selected by The Sunday Times as one of the top page-turners of summer 2017, so I’m in the minority because I thought it was boring and tedious. The plot is simple – a plane crashes into the sea after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard, just two people survive and the mystery is why did the plane crash and who was responsible. The main part of the book is made up of the long backstories of the people on the plane. It’s not gripping or thrilling and definitely not a page-turner. 1*

However I thoroughly enjoyed The Ruin Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel and I’ll be writing more about it in the next few days. Now this is a page-turner, about a current murder linked to a cold case. It’s complex and compelling reading as DI Cormac Reilly unravels a web of secrets. 4*

I’m still reading two books:

D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, from his childhood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44. I’m reading this slowly and it will be some time before I finish it. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family or his work colleagues or the literary elite of the times.

The other book I’ve been reading is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, my Classics Club Spin book that I was hoping to finish by the end of May. I’ve only read half of it so far. It’s a follow up to Cannery Row, with some of the same characters and I’m enjoying its humour and view of life in Monterey in the 1950s.

And now it’s June! I’ll be concentrating on reading the books I’ve listed for the 20 Books of Summer challenge – and hoping I won’t be distracted by too many other books!

My Friday Post: The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

Book Beginnings Button

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.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray, a library book.

Greedy Queen

 

In July 2005 a pair of extraordinarily large bloomers were auctioned in Wiltshire. They sold for £12,900, breaking the record for the previous pair of similarly generously proportioned underwear, which fetched £6,200 a year earlier, and the news of their sale was widely reported across the media.

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:

Once again she complains of headaches and lethargy, and turned to food as a solace. Creevey remarked that, ‘she eats as heartily as she laughs, I think I may say she gobbles.’

Blurb:

What does it mean to eat like a queen? Elizabeth gorged on sugar, Mary on chocolate and Anne was known as ‘Brandy Nan’. Victoria ate all of this and more. The Greedy Queen celebrates Victoria’s appetite, both for food and, indeed, for life.

Born in May 1819, Victoria came ‘as plump as a partridge’. In her early years she lived on milk and bread under the Kensington system; in her old age she suffered constant indigestion yet continued to over-eat. From intimate breakfasts with the King of France, to romping at tea-parties with her children, and from state balls to her last sip of milk, her life is examined through what she ate, when and with whom. In the royal household, Victoria was surrounded by ladies-in-waiting, secretaries, dressers and coachmen, but below stairs there was another category of servant: her cooks. More fundamental and yet completely hidden, they are now uncovered in their working environment for the first time.

Voracious and adventurous in her tastes, Queen Victoria was head of state during a revolution in how we ate – from the highest tables to the most humble. Bursting with original research, The Greedy Queen considers Britain’s most iconic monarch from a new perspective, telling the story of British food along the way.

~~~

With chapters on kitchens, cooks, and ordinary eating as well as extraordinary eating this is a different look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign plus an appendix of modernised recipes.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

 

WWW Wednesday: 22 May 2019

IMG_1384-0

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: Three books,  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck and The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal.

I’ve made more progress with D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. It’s a thorough and detailed account of his life and I’ve just got up to 1912 when he first met Frieda Weekley, the wife of Ernest Weekley, a Nottingham University professor of modern languages. Lawrence had finished writing ‘Paul Morel‘ (Sons and Lovers) and had needing a break he decided to travel – to go to Germany. He got in touch with Weekley to ask for his advice.

Sweet Thursday is my Classics Club spin book to read by 31 May. So far I’ve only read a few chapters. This is a follow on from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row which I loved. Set after the Second World War in Monterey, on the California Coast, Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday, which is one of those days that’s just naturally bad.

I’ve included The Doll Factory in my 20 Books of Summer challenge and I made the mistake of looking at it and before I knew it I’d read 20%. It really is compelling reading for me – historical fiction set in London beginning in 1850 as the Grand Exhibition is being built in Hyde Park. Twin sisters Iris and Rose paint dolls for a living but Iris dreams of a life as an artist. This is the period when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are making their mark in the art world.

Recently finished Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, the basis for the BAFTA-winning Killing Eve TV series. I enjoyed this but not as much as the TV version. See my review here.

Codename Villanelle

My next book could be:

As usual I’m not at all sure what it could be, but after reading Codename Villanelle I’ve got my eye on No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings, which continues the story.

No tomorrow

Blurb (Amazon):

In a hotel room in Venice, where she’s just completed a routine assassination, Villanelle receives a late-night call.

Eve Polastri has discovered that a senior MI5 officer is in the pay of the Twelve, and is about to debrief him. As Eve interrogates her subject, desperately trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, Villanelle moves in for the kill.

The duel between the two women intensifies, as does their mutual obsession, and when the action moves from the high passes of the Tyrol to the heart of Russia, Eve finally begins to unwrap the enigma of her adversary’s true identity.

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

WWW Wednesday: 15 May 2019

IMG_1384-0

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.

Lawrence Worthen001

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

Immortal life of HL

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?