Review copies galore

I have spent the last few weeks in the worlds of some great review copies: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen, and The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. All three officially enter the book world in late Jan/ early Feb, but I took an early look. I suspect all of these will be huge this year, but the first two are bound to be very, very popular.

The Immortal Life investigates the woman behind the most robust cell line (possibly) ever used in cell research – HeLa. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman and a descendent of tobacco sharecroppers, whose cells were biopsied, cultivated, and sold without her knowledge. Science writer Skloot tells the story of not only the amazing trajectory and impact of these cells on the realm of science but also the impact of their development on her family – who did not know about their mother’s contribution until 20 years after the fact. This is a provocative, well-written investigative story that will make you want to learn more about cellular biology and the intersection between science and society.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by historical-fiction award-winning author Thomas Mullen is a brain teaser of a novel about two bank robbers during The Great Depression. The plot is fast-paced, the characters absorbing, and the themes thought-provoking. Do some criminals have hearts of gold? What does it mean to be decent or evil? Can a person really get a second chance? I finished this last week and am still thinking about it. I love books that stick around in my mind like that.

Also, I spent some time with Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress and, though mis-titled, this is a captivating book about three woman during World War II. Unfortunately, the storyline peters in the final chapters, as I kept waiting for the delivery of the “letter.” The resolution of this plot strand is anti-climactic, and perhaps the novel is done a disservice by its marketing. The Postmistress isn’t about the postmistress or letters at all – really – but about missed chances, broken relationships, and the effects of a war on distant shores. In fact, letters and postmistresses are footnotes, and it’s a shame that the novel is marketed like this. I found myself waiting for the story to deliver on the promise made on the jacket and when it didn’t, I was very disappointed. After a little thought, I realized that I if I just divorced myself from these expectations and allowed the novel to unfold before me, I enjoyed it much, much more. I encourage you to read this book – it’s very good – just don’t get wrapped up in the idea that it’s a romantic tale about letters delivered years after the fact because it emphatically is not.

More about all of these novels later, but I thought I would whet your appetites. What’s better than reading great books in gloomy February and January? Well, actually, cuddling with a new baby girl is better – which is what I’m going to be doing – but I think I’ll just read aloud to her as we cuddle. (I can’t believe there are less than 4 weeks until Miss Helen arrives, and we finally got all the books on the shelves. Mr. RRL had to build another bookshelf because – of course – we ran out of room with the first one we bought. If she’s a book collector like me, I just don’t know what we’ll do.:))
Next up: Simon Mawer's The Glass Room and Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves.


  1. Is it strange that the phrase I like most in the whole post is "cellular biology"? I like science-related books - I'll keep an eye out for "The Immortal Life".


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