Monday, August 18, 2014

After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey

I originally picked up the audio After Visiting Friends because although it was in the biography section, the blurb on the cover almost made it sound like a mystery. And it was, but also so much more.

Michael Hainey, an editor for GQ, lost his father, a Chicago newspaperman, when he was just 6 years old. At the time, he remembers being told his father died "after visiting friends" and was found by police in the street in an area that he really had no reason to be. Somehow, even as a child, this did not seem right.

It is not until he is an adult that he decides he must find out what really happened on the night his father died.

At this point, the story really becomes more of  a history lesson on what the newspaper industry in Chicago was like in the 1960s. And how these men took care of their own, no matter what. Michael Hainey discovers a lot more more about his father than he could have ever hoped for, as well as things he may have wished he had been kept in the dark about.

This is a fascinating story! If you do end up listening to it, be sure and pick up the actual book so you can take a look at the pictures.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Missing You by Harlan Coben

If you are looking to read something that is not only suspenseful but very, very complicated, then Harlan Coben's newest, Missing You, fits the request perfectly.

NYPD Detective Kat Donovan's life is not perfect, but she gets by. She has a job she loves, and a few good friends that she can spend time with on the few days she actually takes off. Although still haunted by the murder of her father and the sudden departure of her fiance years ago, she is doing OK. But when a friend gives her a membership to an online dating site, things very rapidly start to change. And when a young boy comes to her because his mother has gone missing, Kat is really in trouble.

How does this all tie together?

Well, read carefully and pay attention. It will all be worth it in the end.


Readalike author: Linwood Barclay

Friday, August 8, 2014

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky

Old secrets do not die as long as there exist those who know them. Long-hidden under layers of painful memories of the Holocaust and loss, V.I.’s friend, Lotty Herschel, asks for her help.Tied together by their shared Kindertransport experience, Lotty and Kitty have a long, strained relationship. Kitty’s mother, Martina, was a brilliant physicist at a time when women were grudgingly, if at all, allowed to work in the field. But the Nazi’s were trying to split the atom and initially accepted any workers, even a Jewish woman. Martina was last known to be transferred to a concentration camp. Kitty’s grandson, who apparently inherited his great-grandmother’s genius, had been reading her notes and has disappeared from the energy technology firm where he works. His mother, hopelessly addicted to drugs, has also gone missing after escaping a meth house where her boyfriend is found murdered.

The story moves through time and location – Europe in the 30’s and 40’s; Chicago in the present, but manages to move fairly smoothly through its transitions. Critical Mass is a thriller and commentary on society all wrapped in fascinating historical detail. I loved it.  


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes

Music fans usually associate specific music scenes with a particular sound and a particular place. Two scenes that come to mind are the sixties British invasion and the grunge music that came out of the Seattle area in the early nineties.  Both of these scenes had bands that sounded the same or at least similar. In Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever the focus is much more on the location than a particular sound. Hermes covers disco, salsa, punk rock, free jazz, modern music, and plenty more genres and subgenres.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire covers the music scene in the New York City area from 1973-1977. Hermes chronicles each year, focusing on dates when major musical events, or sometimes events that seemed not so major, took place. For instance, he describes the Talking Heads first show in 1975 and then backtracks to cover how the original three members met. Later on Hermes recounts the addition of fourth member Jerry Harrison and the release of Talking Heads: 77, their debut album.

The book’s constant jumping about from date to date, artist to artist, and genre to genre takes a little getting used to, but I found it gave a fresh perspective to a period in music that often gets boiled down to Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. Read Love Goes to Buildings on Fire to find out about some of your favorite artists and you’re likely to discover some new favorites as well.


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:,_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.