Book Reviews: October 2018

Four books and one comic were my numbers for October! All of these were solid reads.

  • Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian Vaughan (Illustrated by Fiona Staples)

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

  • Thrawn #1 by Timothy Zahn

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


SAGA, VOL. 9 BY BRIAN VAUGHAN

It was about a year ago that I read Saga #8, so I forgot quite a bit of the story before #9 came out. It doesn't help that I didn't pick up any single issues; I just waited for the full #9 to be published. It started out a bit slow but ending really got me. And by got me, I mean ripped my heart right out. I can’t wait to re-read all of these and feel the pain all over again!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS BY REBECCA SKLOOT

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the true story of the most famous cells in science, the HeLa cells.

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I borrowed this book through my library on Overdrive in the ePub format. It expired, so I renewed it thinking I could access the many, many bookmarks I made while reading just by downloading it again. This works on Kindle format - apparently not ePub. So this review won’t be quite as in depth as I wanted since my notes have disappeared into the internet somewhere.

I’ve seen the cover of this book a million times and I vaguely remembered what HeLa cells were from my brief time as biology major. Until I started reading, though, I had never put “Henrietta Lacks” and “HeLa” together.

The impact that Henrietta's cells have had on scientific and medical discoveries in the last few decades is truly astounding. It's crazy to think how I personally have benefited - I had a polio vaccine when I was younger, which was made possible by Henrietta. Her cells have helped with countless studies, I don’t think anyone has ever managed to make a comprehensive list of everywhere her cells worked. It’s humbling to think of how much is owed to this one woman.

I took one star away because the book seemed a bit disjointed at times; Skloot jumped from explanations of medical issues to Henrietta’s family to medical ethics to the legality of taking Henrietta’s cells. It was especially heartbreaking to see how Henrietta’s death affected her children. Skloot’s research provided very valuable information and I’m certainly glad I read it, it just wasn’t super cohesive.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars


BLACK BEAUTY BY ANNA SEWELL

Anna Sewell's timeless classic is about the life of Black Beauty, a smart, hard-working horse, told from his perspective as he moves between owners.

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I was in Nashville for a conference mid-October, and I couldn't resist picking up this illustrated Black Beauty for $4 when I visited McKay's books. I ended up re-reading it at the airport. I read this countless times as a kid, and it's just as lovely as I remembered.

You can enjoy this book as an adult, especially if you're an animal lover. Sewell was promoting positive reinforcement training before Karen Pryor was ever born. When I think of the 1870's I don't exactly think of people fighting against animal cruelty, but it's nice to know at least one woman was speaking for those who couldn't.

”Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?”

“No,” said the other.

“Then I’ll tell you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light.”

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


THRAWN #1 BY TIMOTHY ZAHN

Grand Admiral Thrawn has been brought back into official Star Wars canon after Disney turned all non-movie material into “Star Wars Legends” in 2014. Thrawn #1 covers the alien’s quick rise through the Empire’s ranks.

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I read the first Thrawn trilogy earlier this year. (Reviews in my March 2018 post.) The best part about that trilogy was Leia's storyline, and Thrawn's ending seemed a bit rushed to me - like he had to get what he was due because he was the "bad" guy, brilliance be damned.

This book was a bit disappointing to me after experiencing the original trilogy. I’m very happy Thrawn is back and “official” and I love learning more facts about the Star Wars universe. BUT this reads like a second draft that needs about five more drafts before the final edits. It was 90% dialogue and every challenge Thrawn faced was obviously set up for him to beat. Nothing was that complicated. Maybe this book was meant to be a little more YA?

Eli Vanto is the most boring character in Star Wars. Supposedly he stayed with Thrawn because he was the only one who could understand Thrawn’s brilliant mind, yet Thrawn was constantly explaining everything to him. Vanto was just a stand in for the reader, and it got annoying.

Honestly the most exciting parts to me were the very brief mentions of Darth Vader. He’s on the cover of the next book, which is currently sitting on my nightstand, and I can’t wait to see how these two interact.

I recommend Thrawn #1 for Star Wars diehards, but if you only occasionally watch the movies in theaters, this book won’t do anything for you. If you’re interested in getting into Star Wars books, read the original Thrawn trilogy before this.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars


LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE BY CELEST NG

When the members of the Richardson family, living in the perfect town of Shaker Heights, meet artist Mia and her daughter Pearl, they are each drawn to the carefree lifestyle that Mia and Pearl live.

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I've seen this book everywhere for a while now, and when my book club selected it I was happy to move it to the front of my TBR. Sometimes bookstagram lets me down with its recommendations (looking at you, A Darker Shade of Magic, you sucked) but I really enjoyed this one.

I couldn’t give this a full five stars because a lot of the plot points were cliches. If it wasn’t for the characters I might not’ve liked it, but each character - aside from that bitch Mrs. Richardson - had my sincere sympathy at some point. I might not have agreed with their various decisions but I could understand why they were made.

One major plot point was an interracial adoption that caught the local news station’s attention when the birth mother was found. I thought that part was well written, because on one hand I felt bad for the adoptive parents who had wanted a child for so long, but on the other hand the birth mother’s story was heartbreaking too. At the same time, both sets of parents said and did things that they shouldn’t have. I won’t share the outcome, but the way the court case played out had me thinking about it for several days after I finished the book.

Little Fires Everywhere is a quick, enjoyable read. If you’re in a reading slump, this would be a good one to get you out of it.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars