The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Skloot tells the fascinating and frustrating story of the first human cells (HeLa) ever grown in a lab. They were taken unknowingly from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks. We hear the tales of Henrietta, her cells, her family, and science as Skloot pieces everything together, from John Hopkin’s Hospital in the 1950’s to current laboratories.

Gwenamon: Incredible in scope and tenacity

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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

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I loved this novel about the courtship, marriage, and divorce of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. I thought the writing was beautiful and unique, paying homage to Hadley, who is often called Hemingway’s “favourite” wife. McLain also vividly contrasts lush 1920’s Paris with the impoverished couple. I have a soft spot for that time and its writing, which is an integral part of this novel’s story.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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American War by Omar El Akkad

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Akkad’s novel tells of the Second American Civil War that begins in 2074, with the North and South once again split – this time about fossil fuel. When her father is killed, Sarat Chestnut is sent to Camp Patience with her mom and brother.  There she falls under an ideological man’s influence and he trains her as one of the South’s premium weapons. I thought the novel was well paced and a solid dystopian piece, but it lacked, for me, the same emotional connection as Station Eleven.

Gwenamon says: Worthwhile

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City of Thieves by David Benioff

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I read this last year but unbelievably forgot to write about it. I love war stories and I loved this one because it tells of the Nazi’s vicious siege of Leningrad, which I hadn’t previously read about. And the story is actually based on Benioff’s grandfather’s telling of his WWII days. Be sure to read the prologue. When Lev is caught looting, he ends up in the same prison cell as Kolya, a charming deserter. In return for their lives, they must find a dozen eggs for a colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. So begins their amazing quest.

Gwenamon says: Wonderful

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1984 by George Orwell

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The fact that Orwell conceived of this novel and wrote it after WWII, but that it’s eerily still relevant and predictive (e.g., Fake News) is amazing. The ideas he expresses are visionary and brilliant, even if horribly depressing. But this “novel” is more like an essay than a story. I found reading it to be a slog.

Gwenamon says: Brilliant, but hard to get through

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Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

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Sakamoto tells the heart-wrenching story of how both sides of his family were deeply affected during WWII. Forgiveness is why he was born and can now tell the tale. His maternal grandfather was a Japanese POW; his paternal grandparents were thrown out of Vancouver and forced to work in rural Alberta. My criticism of this novel is that it sorely needs better editing since Sakamoto isn’t a professional writer. Of course, that adds some charm, but it also makes for some dips and curves, which detract from the powerful story.

Gwenamon says: Good

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

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An affair begins at a baby’s christening party, inevitably re-structuring two families. The lives of four parents and six children become entwined. This novel is about the ties that bind, the longevity of deep affection, the mismatch of romance, and who gets to tell family tales. I gave up when I first attempted to read this novel about a year ago. Yet I rediscovered “Commonwealth” recently and couldn’t put it down. Guess it was the right time.

Gwenamon says: So well told

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