Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Never in a million years would I think of the word fascinating in association with the periodical table of the elements, but The Disappearing Spoon has changed all that. The periodic table is fascinating if you know about what went/goes on in discovering, proving, and naming all of the different elements. This book is full of fun and sometimes disturbing facts about the great scientists and their quests to be famous. The elements themselves have a history and a uniqueness that most of us never think about past chemistry class. Seriously, if you are looking to learn about something new, this is a great read!


Read-alike: The Professor and the Madman: a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Of course completely different subject matter but same fascinating unknown factoids.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks died in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital on October 4, 1951 of cervical cancer. However, unbeknownst to her or her family, tissue samples were taken from Henrietta's tumor and the cells from that tumor survived and continued to multiple in cell culture (something no other cells had been found to do before). Those cells become known as HeLa (the first immortal cell line) and have helped bring about the polio vaccine, new information about cancers, and have even been sent into space. These cells are still being used in labs around the world. Her family however, didn't learn about them until decades after Henrietta's death, most of who have been without health insurance for periods of times throughout their lives. Rebecca Skloot first heard of HeLa and Henrietta in a college lecture hall at sixteen, and became fascinated with the person behind the cells, that the world knew so little about.

In her research to discover more about Henrietta The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks becomes more than just a story about Henrietta. It is about her children, and how the magnitude of HeLa cells has impacted their lives. It is about how the cells were acquired and what rights patients had in the 1950s and what rights they have today. Skloot, delves into the ethics regarding human tissues ("today most Americans have their tissue on file somewhere" (Skloot, 315)), scientific research, and commercial use. A fascinating look into scientific research and the human stories behind it.

HeLa Cells

Image From: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cell_culture_(HeLa_cells)_(261_18)_Cell_culture_(HeLa_cells)_-_metaphase,_telophase.jpg

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Boys In the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I’ve always thought of Ivy League schools and the eighties Rob Lowe movie Oxford Blues when it comes to the sport of rowing. It turns out that rowing, or crew as it was often called, was one of the biggest sports in the U.S. in the early part of the twentieth century. The Boys In the Boat by Daniel James Brown tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 rowing team, perhaps one of the most celebrated and closely followed U.S rowing teams of all time. This rowing crew received a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but most of The Boys In the Boat’s pages are spent on the crew’s up and down journey just to get to the Olympics and on the sport of rowing in general.

Much of the story is devoted to Joe Rantz, one of the key oarsmen on the gold medal crew. Joe’s life is very emblematic of what people were going through in the 1930s. Joe’s stepmother ends up forcing his father to abandon Joe in favor of his younger half siblings when Joe is a teenager. This seems rather shocking to today’s reader, but Joe explains years later to his girlfriend that there simply wasn’t enough food for everyone and that, as the oldest, it only made sense that he was left on his own. Joe gets by in his high school and college years by stringing together odd jobs or finding back breaking work over the summer.

Since the ’36 Olympics were held in Germany, the book also gives a disturbing look at the Nazis’ propaganda machine. Berlin was turned into something of a movie set while the Olympic athletes and foreign press were there. Anti-Semitic signs were removed from stores and streets were spruced up to make the city look beautiful and spotless.

Even with all the hours of ESPN I’ve watched over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a rowing event or given much thought to the sport. However, Brown’s analysis of the boats and the different theories on what makes a successful rowing crew, combined with the stories of the rowers and coaches at Washington at the time, makes The Boys In the Boat a fascinating read.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bliss House by Laura Benedict

Bliss House is one of those great, creepy novels where the main character is really the house. It is the house that holds all of the secrets, the house that makes ordinary people do extraordinary things, and the house that is the one in charge. And we all know when the house is in charge, nothing good happens.

Rainey Bliss Adams needs a place to hide. She and her daughter Ariel have just gone through a horrible tragedy in St. Louis, and Rainey decides that this old family home in rural Virginia might just give them the peace they need to get on with their lives. After all, Bliss House has been in Rainey's family since the late 1800s, and although there have been a few tragedies associated with the property, Rainey is sure she made the right decision. That is, until a death occurs at her first party. A death her damaged daughter may or may not have witnessed. Just what exactly did Ariel see?

With all the elements of one of those old, gothic-style novels, you will not be able to put this one down.


Read-alike: The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

      Move over Jackie Collins - there's a new kid on the block of glitzy, glamour (trashy?) fiction. Sara Shepard, best known for the teen series Pretty Little Liars, has written her first adult novel, The Heiresses. And I loved it!

Meet the Saybrooks, owners of a diamond empire. They have it all - money, fame, money, style, money, secrets. Oh yes, secrets. Perhaps even a family curse. The story focuses on the Saybrook cousins, each with her own cross to bear. One has pre-wedding jitters, one is in love with her cousin's husband, and one is about to commit suicide. Toss in some unscrupulous parents, siblings & friends, and you have quite the New York scene. Finally, throw in a gossip blog and drop some celebrity names - and you have it all!

Pure fun.


Read-alike author: Tilly Bagshawe

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My mother always told me that if you do not have anything nice to say, do not say anything at all.

The Fault in Our Stars


Read-alike: Love Story by Erich Segal

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Readers We Love: Part 2

[Photo Credit]

June is Audiobook Month. Whether you're driving to work, cross country, or just across town, audiobooks are great companions. Last week, we featured a few of our favorite readers in Part 1. This week, we've got a few more of our favorites. 

Besides Steve Jobs, Dylan Baker has also read Argo and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris.

Michael Beck "is awesome with a variety of southern accents, 
male and female." He has read several John Grisham audiobooks.

Mark Bramhall is another reader who does a great job with southern accents. "I'll listen to anything he reads, but especially novels based in the South."

A staff member said that "Peter Giles' voice really suits the character." He has read several Michael Connelly audiobooks. 

George Guidall has read hundreds of audiobooks for adults and kids. He's won two Audie Awards. 

Dick Hill has had a long career reading audiobooks. He reads both fiction and non-fiction books. 

Jenna Lamia is one my favorite audiobook readers. She is a narrator that I keep going back to over and over again.

 John McDonough has read audiobooks for kids and adults. 

If you've tried books with these narrators, let us know what you think! If you haven't, Audiobook Month is the perfect time to try a new narrator.