Sunday, June 21, 2020

Review: The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this book.

This is one of those few books where as I've closed it I've found myself thinking 'this should be required reading'.

This book has just about everything that I love in non-fiction - intriguing facts, insight into history, and a compelling human element that really makes you think. Oh, and for this book the science is absolutely fascinating, getting more insight into just how research has progressed over the last seventy years.

This book is honestly just gutting in a lot of ways. It's a glimpse into a family that in a lot of ways has been taken horrific advantage of by the scientific community, to an extent that there's really no way to make it up to them. It starts with the lack of consent when her tissues are taken, but remains a constant theme throughout throughout the next fifty years. The Lacks' family never had any true chance to have any understanding at a time when it would have given them any control - not Henrietta, not her husband or siblings, not her children.

That element of tragedy adds a taint to all the scientific progress that's described and laid out throughout the book. Clearly the HeLa cells are a tribute to humanity's ingenuity, they've enabled an incredible amount of research and advancement. But the cost to the Lacks' family can't be ignored and my heart ached for them as I read their story. The idea of companies making fortunes off of research that never could have existed without Henrietta while her family suffers, unable to pay their medical bills, just makes one want to weep at the state of affairs.

The writing here cannot be ignored - there's much here that could have been dry and boring, and other elements that could have been overly emotional or viewed as a blatant ploy for sympathy. For me personally, I found that Rebecca Skloot did a perfect job of weaving her story together, telling us the story of Henrietta and those she cared about, and giving us insights into the doctors, nurses and scientists who worked with the HeLa cells.

Not to be overlooked is the searing insight into the racism that was - and is many ways still is so prevalent in American society at the time that this happened. The fact that Henrietta's children are still alive - that theoretically *she* could have been alive had she not been struck down so young by this vicious mutation of her own body - is a reminder that the past is not so far behind us as we sometimes like to think.

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Review: Do No Harm

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain SurgeryDo No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite liked this one.

You know how a lot of people think that doctors or surgeons, etc, can be pompous jerks? Well, this author comes across as one, but he also knows that that is how he sometimes comes across, and that lends a certain humour to this book.

The book takes us through a variety of different experiences of Henry Marsh's life, from when he was a young student and still 'wet behind the ears', to towards the end of his career when he is a respected and esteemed neurosurgeon. Throughout he tackles difficult cases, patients who try his patience (pun intended), and patients who tug at his heartstrings in spite of his efforts to be detached. Patients he remembers, standing out against a sea of faces and conditions.

He also grapples with the medical system and the politics and bureaucracy, something that even highly respected and important doctors still have to deal with (much to his dismay, of course)!

The book skips around a bit, but in spite of this I found that it was well balanced. On one page I would be rolling my eyes at the impatience and arrogance of the author, but then on the next I would find myself sympathetic to him and what he had to deal with. It's not as personal as Unnatural Causes was, but that's because it's a different book, and in ways it benefits from that focus on medicine instead of the personal life of the doctor. A little bit more might have been nice, but isn't necessary.

Definitely worth a read for those who enjoy these types of books where we get a glimpse into these professions that we'll never have an intimate understanding of.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: You Should See Me In A Crown

You Should See Me in a CrownYou Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*sighs contentedly* See, the advantage of working from home is being able to just sit down and read through a book like this!

Sometimes you come across a book that just makes you happy, and this is one of those books. It's one of those books where just for a moment, everything is right with the world and it makes you believe that stories like this can happen outside of the pages of a book, too.

Liz Lighty has a dream, a dream she's held tight to her chest ever since she was a little girl. She's going to go to the school of her dreams and then go to med school, and be the person that it seems society expects her not to be.

That dream shatters when she finds out that she hasn't won the scholarship that she was counting on. Now she has to come up with a plan... And what a plan it is!

With her friends by her side, she ignores that she is dead last in the race for prom queen and decides to take her school by storm. Along the way she meets Mack, the cute new girl who distracts her more than she should - and also runs into Jordan, former friend turned into someone she actually resents. It's a story of a queer black girl finding her voice and growing into who she is.

This book has all of the drama and hijinks that you would expect from a story about a bunch of teenagers on the cusp of going off into the world, and with that comes conflict and more than a few clashes between Liz - who she really is - and what those around her expect. There are also a few turns that may surprise you!

I enjoyed the fact that the people in this book were allowed to be real - fully rounded with faults and fears, not just fill in the blank tropes for the main character to bounce off of. It gives our character room to be imperfect and grow herself, and I appreciated that. Sometimes you finish a book and you're left with the impression that it's just fluff, but that wasn't the feeling I got here.

Just a really fun and sweet book and definitely one I'd recommend.

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Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What an odd little book. I got about a quarter of the way in and was rather bored and baffled with the route that it was taking, so I ended up skipping to read the last little bit.

I found it difficult to empathize with the main character, perhaps because of her immaturity even at the age of seventeen. I can see the kernels of a character I could sympathize with in there somewhere, but they're covered up with rather shallow writing and the rather fantastical ideas that just left me sort of cold. Some of her thoughts and feelings would have made more sense for a sixth or seventh grader, not someone who is seventeen. The obsessive behaviour I'm fine with, because I can be a tad obsessive myself, but the rest just didn't do it for me.

'Meh' is probably the best descriptor I can think of for it, which is handy since I already have a shelf named that. I'm not sure how I'd even categorize this book, I can't help thinking that it's a pity that the author didn't age down the characters.

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Review: Unnatural Causes

Unnatural CausesUnnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, both for the cases the author delves into but also the exploration of his life and the impact that varying incidents had on him. I imagine that pathologists find at times that others don’t understand them - it’s a profession that many would not be able to do, of course. I have to admit that some of the descriptions gave me pause, mostly due to the beauty the author seems to find in the dead body itself. However I think that’s exactly what I would want in a forensic pathologist finding cause of death, even if it makes me a tad uncomfortable.

I also found some of the book incredibly relevant to the current protests going on against police brutality. It’s clear that the author feels that the police are not properly trained on how to safely restrain people, and that black people suffer from this especially.

Overall an enjoyable read, with insight into a taxing profession with high expectations.

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