Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #18: Fabookulous May 31, 2010

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Book description:

Tessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon. Despite her mother’s warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life.

Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie—a boy who has never known his father. After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance—and even, to some degree, friendships—believing that it is always safer not to expect too much.

Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children. But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined.

In alternating, pitch-perfect points of view, Emily Giffin creates a moving, luminous story of good people caught in untenable circumstances. Each being tested in ways they never thought possible. Each questioning everything they once believed. And each ultimately discovering what truly matters most.

I was so excited to read another Emily Giffin novel! Having met her on her Heart of the Matter book tour, I couldn’t wait to devour her latest story. And devour I did, poolside on Memorial Day weekend.

With each Giffin novel I’ve read, I’ve always said each one is better than the last. (And they are all really good!) She never disappoints, introducing you to your new best friends and making it easy to feel compassion and empathy for the characters. I love how Heart of the Matter is told from two points of views (Tessa in first person and Valerie in third person). I love getting both sides to the story!

Without giving too much away, I can say that the twists and turns, the ups and downs, and the friendships developed will have you turning the pages as fast as you can! I couldn’t put the book down and as I neared the end I was actually sad that it was almost over.

Emily Giffin novels remain some of my favorites and I love that they are not all too predictable. I like novels that keep you guessing. This one doesn’t disappoint and I recommend it for your summer TBR list!

Giffin’s first novel, Something Borrowed, is currently being made into a movie and will release next summer. While reading Heart of the Matter, I could easily imagine which celebrities would be great for the roles. So here’s hoping this one’s a movie someday too so I can see how well I did!

5/5 stars.

Happy Reading,



Book #29: LibraryLove May 30, 2010

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

Book description~ This book tells the haunting story of a young man who narrowly survives a terrible car wreck that kills his little brother. Years later, the brothers’ bond remains so strong that it transcends the normal boundaries separating life and death. Charlie St. Cloud lives in a snug New England fishing village. By day he tends the lawns and monuments of the ancient cemetery where his younger brother, Sam, is buried. Graced with an extraordinary gift after surviving the accident, he can still see, talk, and even play catch with Sam’s spirit. But townsfolk whisper that Charlie has never recovered from his loss.  Into his carefully ordered life comes Tess Carroll, a captivating, adventuresome woman training for a solo sailing trip around the globe. Fate steers her boat into a treacherous storm that blows her back to harbor, to a charged encounter with Charlie, and to a surprise more overwhelming than the violent sea itself. Charlie and Tess discover a beautiful and uncommon connection that leads to a race against time and a desperate choice between death and life, between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go.

Soulful and transformative.  Suspenseful yet subtle. Engaging and realistic. Set in New England, these are just a few words that describe Ben Sherwood’s thought-provoking novel, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. First and foremost, St. Cloud is about the unbreakable bond of devotion between brothers Sam and Charlie, who are forever changed by a tragic car accident. I am fascinated to read about sibling dynamics and love to see such a strong bond with these characters. Sherwood does a fantastic job developing the characters of both brothers. Charlie and Sam were just so relatable, making me miss my sister,  even more than I normally do. Two forces pulled me toward this novel almost simultaneously. My favorite author, Garth Stein, posted a comment on Facebook last week saying his best buddy Ben Sherwood’s novel, St. Cloud, was made into a soon-to-be-released major motion picture with Zac Efron cast as Charlie. I added the book to my library queue the following day when a friend and I went to the movies and I saw a preview for the film! I’m a curious person by nature and knew I’d want to see the film. Why do I always do this?? I walk out of the theater disappointed.  Frankly, it’s my own fault for having unrealistic expectations and a vivid imagination; the films always somehow fall short. Ah well, maybe one of these days I will learn from Pavlov’s Dog. In the meantime, I wanted the book under my belt first. Most of all, as I was with The Lovely Bones, I’m curious how the director is going to interpret the “in between” scenes.

Regardless of how the film turns out, I’m SO glad my interest was piqued into devouring this book at the pool over the weekend. Sherwood paces the action just perfectly. I was right along side Charlie’s struggle to find a place in this world after the accident. Charlie felt that he robbed Sam of life because of the accident. I could really sympathize with  how Charlie felt he didn’t deserve love or  happiness, as suffering was his due diligence. He wrapped himself in a bubble where he didn’t let anyone in for a while. These walls of limitation prevented him from truly feeling or moving on… that is, until Tess came along.  You will have to pick up this fantastic book for yourself to see how Tess flips Charlie and Sam’s worlds upside down.

In St. Cloud, Sherwood created an interesting world where tragedy is morphed into a renewal so beautiful, you will not want to put this book down. Clearly I was compelled….can’t you tell by my furrowed brow?

As you know if you follow this blog regularly, poolside is where we bookwormz get our best reading done. I couldn’t put this book down and finished it at the pool this afternoon. This novel was a thoroughly enjoyable read I recommend to everyone. I’ll be interested to see how the movie interprets this novel. Have you read any of Sherwood’s other works? What’s your take on books made into films? Would love to hear your thoughts! And if you haven’t already, there’s still time to enter to win our current summer giveaway. Click here for details!

When the goin’ gets hot, take a dip in the pool and crack open a great book this summer!

5/5 stars

29 down, 23 to go!

In progress, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman



PS- below is where you’ll find us all summer chugging through this challenge!


Book #17: Fabookulous May 29, 2010

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

Book description~

In this brave, beautiful, and deeply personal memoir, Laura Bush, one of our most beloved and private first ladies, tells her own extraordinary story.

Born in the boom-and-bust oil town of Midland, Texas, Laura Welch grew up as an only child in a family that lost three babies to miscarriage or infant death. She vividly evokes Midland’s brash, rugged culture, her close relationship with her father, and the bonds of early friendships that sustain her to this day. For the first time, in heart-wrenching detail, she writes about the devastating high school car accident that left her friend Mike Douglas dead and about her decades of unspoken grief.

When Laura Welch first left West Texas in 1964, she never imagined that her journey would lead her to the world stage and the White House. After graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1968, in the thick of student rebellions across the country and at the dawn of the women’s movement, she became an elementary school teacher, working in inner-city schools, then trained to be a librarian. At age thirty, she met George W. Bush, whom she had last passed in the hallway in seventh grade. Three months later, “the old maid of Midland married Midland’s most eligible bachelor.” With rare intimacy and candor, Laura Bush writes about her early married life as she was thrust into one of America’s most prominent political families, as well as her deep longing for children and her husband’s decision to give up drinking. By 1993, she found herself in the full glare of the political spotlight. But just as her husband won the Texas governorship in a stunning upset victory, her father, Harold Welch, was dying in Midland.

In 2001, after one of the closest elections in American history, Laura Bush moved into the White House. Here she captures presidential life in the harrowing days and weeks after 9/11, when fighter-jet cover echoed through the walls and security scares sent the family to an underground shelter. She writes openly about the White House during wartime, the withering and relentless media spotlight, and the transformation of her role as she began to understand the power of the first lady. One of the first U.S. officials to visit war-torn Afghanistan, she also reached out to disease-stricken African nations and tirelessly advocated for women in the Middle East and dissidents in Burma. She championed programs to get kids out of gangs and to stop urban violence. And she was a major force in rebuilding Gulf Coast schools and libraries post-Katrina. Movingly, she writes of her visits with U.S. troops and their loved ones, and of her empathy for and immense gratitude to military families.

With deft humor and a sharp eye, Laura Bush lifts the curtain on what really happens inside the White House, from presidential finances to the 175-year-old tradition of separate bedrooms for presidents and their wives to the antics of some White House guests and even a few members of Congress. She writes with honesty and eloquence about her family, her public triumphs, and her personal tribulations. Laura Bush’s compassion, her sense of humor, her grace, and her uncommon willingness to bare her heart make this story revelatory, beautifully rendered, and unlike any other first lady’s memoir ever written.

It became clear to me early on while reading this memoir that it was going to be a beautiful read. From cover to cover, Laura Bush’s personal and deeply touching story is beautifully written and a delight to read. I closed the book with a smile on my face and yet sadness that it was the end. Taking three weeks to read it (due partly to the fact that I was on business travel one of those weeks and by the time my head hit the pillow I could hardly read a single paragraph), I feel I spent enough time to soak up every word.

Laura Bush is to be admired, respected, and an example to follow. Not only has she always been (and remains to be) committed to her husband and family, she has a heart for people that stretches to the corners of the world. She used her platform as First Lady to serve others and bring attention and aid to some of the most devastating circumstances around the globe.

Spoken from the Heart discusses painful topics for the former First Lady, from the tragic accident that took a friend’s life and the grief-stricken years to follow, to the challenging decisions her husband was faced with every single day and her admiration for him to persevere in tough times. She does a marvelous job “humanizing” the former First Family. The Bush family respected each other and remained committed despite all the negative circumstance and attention surrounding them. They stayed true to themselves and served our country with honor and integrity.

Something that came to mind frequently while reading Spoken from the Heart was a quote from the Book of Esther. When Esther is called to become Queen, her uncle tells her she was called, “…for such a time as this.” I truly believe President Bush was called for his time. He brought with him a beautiful family and a strong, caring, loving and gracious wife.

Laura Bush is a genuine soul who continues work for many of the initiatives she began in the White House. As a fellow lover of books and literacy, she has inspired me to consider where I can lend my hand and support. To share books with others, to encourage education and literacy, to meet authors and enrich our understandings, all of this is a gift to be shared.

What more can I say other than I respect, admire, and appreciate Laura Bush. I thank her for opening up to the world and writing a memoir, despite her preference for privacy. I thank her for her efforts and her faith in the human people to help one another. And I recommend this memoir to anyone who admires the Bush family, enjoys autobiographies and memoirs, or just wants to be inspired to make a difference in their world.

Without a doubt, 5/5 stars.

Happy Reading,


Summertime Giveaway: FREE Garth Stein Swag Bag! ***Winner just announced*** May 26, 2010

Ok guys. Are you ready for this??

I’ve been bursting at the seams with excitement over here and can finally announce this exciting giveaway!

Thanks to Garth Stein and his publicist, Sarah at Terra Communications, I am excited to announce our first contest here at Year of the Bookwormz. One OH-SO-LUCKY winner will receive a FREE Garth Stein  ‘’  SWAG BAG (pictured below) with a stunning red Raven Stole The Moon umbrella AND autographed hardcover copy of Garth Stein’s prolific New York Times Bestseller, Art of Racing in the Rain!

How can you win this fantastic booty?
It’s SUPER EASY! Just leave a comment  and tell us:

1) Your name

2) The name of your favorite pet (past or present)

3) Something funny or cute or anything at all this pet did/does to make you smile

If you’ve never had a pet, you can still enter– use your vivid imagination and make something  up!

This contest will be open until Wednesday June 9th.

After the contest closes, a winner will be chosen using Random.Org. Please check back here to find out if you’re the lucky winner of this fantastic prize pack!

Not only is my favorite author of my favorite novel an amazing writer, speaker, and chef, but he’s extremely generous, humble and kind. If you follow this blog, you know I had the honor of meeting Mr. Stein last month at the Bethesda Writer’s Center where he made all the girls cry (ok but then he made us laugh immediately after). I look forward to supporting his future endeavors, including attending his event in September. After viewing this blog and my photos from the event, Sarah, Garth’s publicist,  approached me asking if she could use my photos in Garth’s newsletter. (No brainer!) I was honored and told her yes immediately! She then gave me the opportunity to host this giveaway.

Where would we be without technology?! Social media and Web 2.0 afford me the platform for promoting someone I believe in and support so much. Being able to reach out to our readers and give one of you the gift of this compelling novel  is a privilege. The Art of Racing in the Rain changed my life and I believe if you read it, it will change yours as well.

Good luck! Please share this with all your friends!!



PS- Here’s a photo of one of my favorite pets. His name is Zumo and his strength amazes me. Zumo is our 18-month-old rescue Akita. He loves his weekly hydrotherapy rehab sessions and this photo just makes me smile every time I see it, because it’s like a circus just getting him into his “swim gear”. One afternoon, while unloading the dogs from hydrotherapy, one of the young neighborhood girls asked, “So Zumo is a rescue? He, like, jumps in pools and saves kids and stuff?” I laughed and replied, “No sweetie. We rescued him.” 🙂


Book #28: LibraryLove May 24, 2010

Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Taylor Kidd

Book description~ Between 1998 and 2000, Sue and Ann traveled together to sacred sites throughout Greece and France. Sue, feeling her years and longing to reconnect with her daughter, struggles to find the wherewithal to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel, that will become her bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees. Ann, just graduated from college, heartbroken and facing her future, grapples with a painful depression.

I’ve recently read a number of novels that flip back and forth from one character, in first person, to the next. It’s an interesting literary choice done EXTREMELY well by authors like Jodi Picoult (think My Sister’s Keeper, House Rules) and Jennifer Weiner (think Little Earthquakes). This book is the first memoir I’ve read where, as the reader, we hear both first-hand accounts of the two main characters. Usually, authors select to write one character in first-person narrative and the rest in third-person.
This memoir tells the story of a very tumultuous time for mother and daughter, Sue & Ann. Both ladies allow us direct access into the eye of their most vulnerable storms. The mother and daughter pair venture on a fantastic trip to Greece and through Europe after Ann’s graduation. We are introduced to Sue who is struggling with getting older and finding purpose, now that her daughter is graduating. Sue feels all alone. Then we are introduced to her daughter, Ann, who is struggling with getting older and finding purpose now that she is graduating and moving on in her life. Dramatic irony- most certainly! 😉 In the beginning, Ann is very silent about her depression. She doesn’t get accepted to the Graduate school she wanted to and is sent into a tailspin to figure out what direction her life should go in.

She eventually decides she has such a passion for writing that she cannot deny. Sue struggles to find the inspiration she needs for her idea to write a novel about bees. I was initially drawn to this book because of my enjoyment of her bestselling novel, The Secret Life of Bees. I saw this was a memoir and was curious to learn about Sue’s impetus behind writing that novel, which was written as a result of this life-changing and inspiring trip Sue took with Ann back in 1998. The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most were about how Sue’s creative process grew so organically, to form one of my all time favorite pieces of southern fiction.

Along their journey through Greece and Europe, Sue and Ann discover a new found appreciation for each other. They confide in each other and draw strength from the other’s struggle.

“At times it seemed beyond weird that we’d lived in the same house during those years- I’d known so little about what she’d struggled with inside. There had been hints- bits of conversation, or the piles of feminist theology books that were suddenly in the house. But mostly I knew her as my mother- the one who stayed up to decorate my Raggedy Ann birthday cake, who helped me pick out my cotillion dress, who taught me how to parallel park. I glimpsed her, for the first time, as a woman, like one of those beautiful Caryatids she’s standing with now,”~ Ann, speaking of her mother, Sue.

“For one elongated minute we sit there and listen to rain pelt the roof. The closeness we discovered in Greece seemed to solidify during the fall. We talked endlessly about the experiences we’d had, pored over our trip photographs, and picked up the conversations we started over there,”~ Sue, speaking of her daughter, Ann.

Unfortunately, I found myself wanting to rush through many of Sue’s chapters because she insisted upon including numerous Greek mythological tangents. I found the self-indulgence unnecessary to the story, lecture-ish and along the lines of a historical textbook, not a memoir. Sue’s writing style in this particular selection didn’t keep my interest as much. It was harder for me to relate to a menopausal woman’s struggles, something I’ve yet to experience, whereas Ann’s story I really enjoyed, as she is closer to my age.  I enjoyed the beautiful imagery of Greece and to hear the development of The Secret Life of Bees’ plotline. It’s also a nice reminder that we should be kinder, sweeter, and more understanding of the silent struggles we, our friends, and our mothers face on a daily basis. It is a good reminder to maybe check in with the women in your life in a different way- refocus conversations to real matters of the heart rather than just getting caught up in the minutiae of daily life. For Ann especially, their trip to Europe was a gift- the opportunity to re-acquaint herself with the person who baked her birthday cakes and sewed her buttons back on…

3/5 stars

28 down, 24 to go!




Author Spotlight & Book Signing:: Emily Giffin :: May 20, 2010

No author’s work epitomizes summer reading like Emily Giffin (NOT Griffin)! Thanks to Fabookulous’ recommendation and a few credits from, my girls and I devoured each of Giffin’s books last summer by the pool/beach. On the outside, the book covers are girly and bright. On the inside, these books will make you laugh, cry, and call your best friend. Giffin’s books cover all the bases- life’s challenges in personal growth, relationships,  marriage, friendships, motherhood and beyond. These books are written in such a fun and fresh way. To quote CoverGirl- they’re just easy, breezy!

In March, while on vacation visiting family and away from the computer, Fabookulous was bursting at the seams to tell me about Giffin’s tour dates hot off the press! With the date firmly inked on the calendar, we sent a “smoke signal” and organized a group of our gal pals from near and far. Tonight was the long awaited Girl’s Night Out to share in the excitement of meeting Giffin as she kicked off her 2010 summer book tour (thankfully with a stop in our town) promoting her latest release, Heart of the Matter. The girls and I HAD anxiously awaited this event since voraciously devouring all her books last summer. We’d been chomping at the bit for more. Turned out it was also the BabyMoon weekend I organized for one of my besties to come down to stay with us at “The Chateau” for a girly weekend of pampering and prenatal massage before her new baby arrives. She was able to arrive a day early and join us for GiffinFest2010!

Those of us who were able, met at a french cafe for dinner before the big event. We arrived in plenty of time to save prime seats for our other friends who were coming from farther away in traffic.

I don’t know how it happens, but I seem to make new friends everywhere I go.  I was complimenting the girl in front of us on her gorgeous blue/purple dress. We starting chatting books and she loved hearing about our blog. Turned out this was her VERY first book signing event! So Alyssa, if you’re reading this, I’m so glad to have met you and we hope to see you at the Jennifer Weiner event this summer 🙂

From the moment Emily walked into the room, she captivated us. She’s the kind of girl you want in (as I call it), in your “friend arsenal”; intelligent, friendly, hilarious, kind and thoughtful. It was such a fantastic opportunity to hear her talk openly about her process for writing Heart of the Matter as well as her other bestselling novels, balancing being a wife, and and mother of twin 6-year-old sons and a 3-year-old daughter.

My gal pals and I coordinated outfits to match the beautiful deep purple cover of Heart of the Matter. Emily was so tickled by our gesture that she had her assistant take a photo of Emily with our group especially for her blog. I cannot wait to see it! Emily, we love you and cannot wait for you to come back around!! I would say more but I have out-of-town company to attend to. I knew you folks would want a quick recap and the night was just spectacular. Thanks to my girlfriends for making it extra special. As I say, it’s always better together!

With the most wonderful time of the year a week away, that’s right folks- pool and beach season, time to pack that beach bag, pool bag or airline carry-on with your favorite summer reading. What’s at the top of your favorite summer reads? Drop us a comment anytime, I’d love to get suggestions for my summer TBR list.

Want more Giffin? The first book, Something Borrowed, is currently being made into a major motion picture!! So far, Kate Hudson (Darcy), Ginnifer Goodwin (Rachel), Colin Egglesfield (Dex) and John Krasinski (Ethan) have been cast for the film. As can be expected, we can’t wait to make a fun night of this and go as a group to see the film when it comes out 😉 In the meantime, check out Giffin’s recent blog post as she shares her experience of visiting the set of the film, and getting to meet the cast! Giffin is also working on the screenplay for Baby Proof!

Happy reading and don’t forget the sunscreen.




Spotlight:: When Worlds Collide:: Sue Monk Kidd & Jenna Lamia:: May 18, 2010

Did you know June is National Audiobook Month? The other day, while perusing the “just added section” of my library’s iPod audiobook catalog, loading up my wish list for next month, I stumbled upon a gem: The Secret Life of Bees!! Just when it couldn’t get any better, I see under the title, read by Jenna Lamia!!!!!!!!

Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees left a lasting impression on me when I first picked it up a few years ago after a recommendation from one of my besties. I absolutely adored it; I laughed, I cried and I felt like Lily was my little sister who I wanted to just take under my wing. I wanted Lily to know she would overcome the horrible turn her young life took and comfort her. Watching the movie was just “so-so”, as I’ve found are 99.9% of movies adapted from novels. Knowing Lamia was the voice of Lily, I made a beeline and downloaded Bees immediately. Kidd’s other books have been on my TBR list for a while now. I was recently re-inspired when Traveling With Pomegranates became available from my local library, Kidd’s dual memoir with daughter Ann Kidd Taylor. Mermaid Chair is also on its way to me through Unfortunately, Kidd’s author event in my area falls on what seems to be THE busiest weekend of the year and I won’t be in town. If Fabookulous can make it, I will anxiously await her gushing afterward!

Jenna Lamia, my FAVORITE voice-over artist, in addition to narrating Secret Life of Bees, has cropped up in some of my other favorite audiobooks (go figure)! I just love when worlds collide and simply had to blog about it. I plan to follow her career, as Fabookulous would say, “like white on rice”! After a quick IMDB search, Lamia has also appeared in numerous films as an actress, but carved out a perfect niche in the voice-over universe. Lamia read the voice of Skeeter in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a book that will remain in my Top 10 best reads. In addition to narrating the entire audiobook for Bees, Lamia also narrated the audiobook for friend and YOTBWZ2010 supporter, Beth Hoffman’s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Interestingly enough, I found many similarities between the three books’ main characters- Skeeter, Lily and CeeCee. If I were a college student again, I’d write a character analysis paper comparing/contrasting these three young women. I think it’d be fascinating to analyze these three books in relation to one another’s main characters. Lamia’s voice is the perfect tie to bind them and I thank the “voice over powers that be” for “casting” the audiobook just right. Lamia’s voice so perfectly springs these authors’ words from the page and into life with such feeling and intensity. Her timing is right on point.

If you’re new to the audiobook realm, I highly recommend you just give it a try and observe June’s National Audiobook Month in a few weeks. Take a listen to Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, The Help and/or Secret Life of Bees and come back here to let me know your thoughts, feelings, reactions! You will be hooked. Audiobooks make my commute, housework, and summer roadtrips much more enjoyable and are widely accessible from your local library’s digital download section or in CD format. When all else fails, head over to iTunes and download the audiobooks from there.

“Jenna Lamia brings a fresh, captivating voice to the audiobook world, and with only a few audiobooks under her belt, she has had amazing success. Her performance of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES was a 2003 Audie Award Finalist in the prestigious category of Best Female Narrator. Director Paul Ruben shared his excitement about their work on the audiobook, saying, “Only good actors make good directors, and she’s one of them. A natural.” GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING was her first audiobook, and an Earphones Award Winner. We celebrate HOPE WAS HERE with another Earphones. She has an attentive ear for the nuances of speech patterns and regional inflections, yet makes an effort not to overprepare. “I let the characters grow and take care not to be too knowing,” she says. “I come to the story as the listener does, allowing it to unfold.” Jenna’s success is not just in audiobooks; a big break came with her 1998 performance in Ah, Wilderness on Broadway, and recently she starred in Bed Bound Off Broadway. She’s now in Los Angeles where she had a role in HBO’s Oz. Movies on the way include Audrey Tautou’s Nowhere to Go But Up. Jenna’s interest in audiobooks will likely keep open some time for narration in the coming months”.–2003 Narrator Yearbook.

Look for my review of Secret Life of Bees coming soon!

Happy reading,




Book #27 LibraryLove May 17, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Book description~ Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

What an unexpected read- curious indeed! Immediately the reader is drawn into the world through Christopher’s eyes – a world where he doesn’t like the color brown, is a genius at the most complicated math problems, doesn’t like to be touched, and focuses on prime numbers to manage his anxiety when in certain social situations. This 15-year old has a type of high-functioning autism also known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Written in 2003, The Curious Incident reminded me a lot of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. Both books’ main character was a 15-year old with Asperger’s who were each also fascinated with solving crimes and investigations. Christopher’s story was a much  faster-paced read told so simply yet so complex at the same time. I enjoyed every moment of Haddon’s novel. Usually, when writing characters with mental illness, authors describe characters with a disease like Asperger’s to explain a character’s quirks. Instead, Haddon invites us along for the ride, inside Christopher’s hear, every step of the way as he tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his neighbor’s poodle. I wanted to give Christopher a hug and tell him everything would be ok. I felt like Christopher was my little brother that I wanted to help and calm his nerves when he was scared. Haddon does such a meticulous job with Christopher’s character analysis, using Christopher’s voice in such a fresh and light way. Christopher’s life changes course in such a dramatic way and I enjoyed it immensely. He sets out on a trek to solve a mystery for his neighbor, and ends up in London on a mission to solve his own life’s mystery and unearthing some family skeletons in the process. As usual, my reviews are not meant as spoilers so I won’t give away the best parts. But I read this book in two days and if you need a quick read that will leave you with a smile, I recommend Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

4.5/5 stars

27 down 25 to go, over the hump!




Book #26 LibraryLove May 12, 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Book description~

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille–the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town–a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.
In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah’s perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer. Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman’s sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, “packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart.” It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.

Let me first just say…holy cannoli, I’m halfway there (queue Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin on a Prayer’)! This marks the halfway point for me- 26 books so far. I absolutely love this challenge. I’ve devoured more books since January 1, 2010 than an entire calendar year in the past. I’ve grown as a person and learned so much along the way. It feels so good to be on track with completing my first ever New Year’s Resolution. I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep, hence my reason for never making a resolution before.  This has me pondering what reading challenge I will undertake in 2011. If you have any suggestions, bring ’em on!

Ok, back to business…I finally had the opportunity to read this debut novel of one of our biggest fans and friends here at Year of the Bookwormz2010. Beth Hoffman, author of this New York Time’s best selling novel is sweet, kind, insightful and just a peach. She is so busy yet still finds the time to read our blog reviews and send us sweet messages. Fabookulous discovered this book and developed a rapport with Beth immediately. We look so forward to taking Beth to a girly afternoon tea or sharing some sweet tea when she adds our hometown to her paperback tour next year.

A sleepy town in Ohio in the ’60s is where we first meet young Cecilia Honeycutt (CeeCee). Managing the public embarrassment of a mother with mental illness and an absentee father leaves CeeCee with a hefty weight on her shoulders on the brink of her teenage years. CeeCee’s story is the basis for Beth Hoffman’s debut novel rich with southern charm. This novel goes down like an ice-cold glass of lemonade and a plate of cool cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off enjoyed mid-afternoon on a wrap-around-porch with the scent of wisteria blowing through the air.

CeeCee is swept off her feet by her Great Aunt Talullah (Tootie) during the summer of 1967. Tootie takes an otherwise series of unfortunate events, and turns it into the greatest summer of CeeCee’s young adult life giving her a second chance at enjoying her youth with the love, support, and laugh outloud hijinks along the way. The women of Gaston Street turn CeeCee’s loss into something so wonderful you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest.

Mix a pinch of Secret Life of Bees

+ a whole lotta’ Skeeter + Minny from The Help

+ a splash of Thelma & Louise

+ sprinkle of Paula Deen

= Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“Miz Goodpepper gathered the length of her caftan and stepped on the stump. Her lips formed a devlish smile when she shook one of the slugs onto the end of the pancake flipper. She held out the jar and said, “Will you hold this for a minute?”

I wrinkled my nose but did as she asked.  With her right hand she held the handle and with her left she pulled back the top like a slingshot and said, “Enjoy the ride.” She let go and the slug catapulted through the air and disappeared into the darkness of Miz Hobbs’ backyard. She let out a low, haunting laugh. “Oh, I’m not killing them. I’m just sending them on a little ride. Slugs like to fly. They look forward to this- it’s their only sport. With any luck those slugs will eat half of that evil witch’s garden before morning.” Thelma Rae Goodpepper was a mystery to me: wise and funny and kind, yet she also possessed a darkness that was as smooth as silk and as dangerous as a slim blade. Something formidable shimmered in her cool, blue eyes. I didn’t know what to think of her. But I did know, with searing clarity, that I’d never want to fall out of her favor.”

This book had such a satisfying ending. I feel like Beth used the vignette about the hummingbird as a metaphor for CeeCee’s growth. CeeCee was that little hummingbird caught in the spiderweb and then freed to fly as high as she could. Yet somehow I was still left wanting more- in a great way! More of CeeCee, Great Aunt Tootie and Oletta’s bond, and more of CeeCee & Dixie’s new beginning.   I felt for a moment that it was Fabookulous and I walking together chatting about books headed in for our first day of school 🙂 I know that a story must be well-rounded with more than just focus on the main characters, as the events of CeeCee’s summer unfold for the reader. I felt like I didn’t get enough time with CeeCee, Toots and ‘O. Maybe another 50-75 pages worth of dialogue and plot development in the beginning or mid-point? Yes, it’s selfish, I know!  The part of me that understands how the publishing world works, also knows that breakout authors can get bombarded with book deals right after the first becomes a hit. As one of my other favorite author friends Sarah Pekkanen told me, her second novel was already written by the time the first one went to print. So *crossing fingers and toes*, hopefully Hoffman did this on purpose because CeeCee’s story isn’t yet over? I sure hope not. Make me wait too long and I’ll have to take up slug slingin’… I’ll try not to trip anyone in the process 🙂

A story of love, life, and letting go- Saving CeeCee Honeycutt will not disappoint.

If you need a quick and satisfying read for a day at the pool or beach this summer, I highly recommend this book.

5/5 stars

26 down, 26 to go!

In progress: Little Giant of Aberdeen County




Book #25 LibraryLove May 10, 2010

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Book description~ On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.  Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband, Krishnan, see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion. Somer knows life will change with the adoption but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles. Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies, “Secret Daughter” poignantly explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love, as witnessed through the lives of two families – one Indian, one American – and the child that indelibly connects them.

Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, follows both The Merchants, Indian family in Bombay and The Thakkars, a blended Indian-American family in California, spanning 25 years of global struggle. Both families’ struggles are so different yet as I read on, became so intertwined they paralleled one another. The shear THOUGHT of Kavita Merchant having to give up her daughter, Usha, because the poverty-stricken India in the 80s favored sons, made me sick to my stomach yet intrigued me at the same time. The bond a woman shares with her unborn child she nurtures in her body for almost an entire year is an intense one unlike anything else. I can’t imagine what Kavita went through. Then, Kavita struggled through the ‘unspeakable’ with her first baby girl, before Usha, and a tough first trimester with her third pregnancy waiting to find out the gender ultimately learning she was carrying a boy she could keep. We also follow Somer Thakkar, an American doctor who is married to an Indian man. They try and try but cannot have children. They decide to adopt and, as you can guess, end up adopting Kavita’s daughter, Usha, unbeknownst to Kavita.  The older Usha gets, the more and more she seeks answers and acceptance. Usha never quite felt bonded to Somer- she longed to know about her biological family and never felt like Somer embraced the Indian side of their culture. Usha found it easier to assimilate with her Indian classmates because they taught her more about her own culture than her parents did. It made her seek out an opportunity to go overseas even more as she grew up and matured. The turning point in the book happened when Usha earns a journalism fellowship in India for an academic year. Usha is excited for the possibility of finding her birth parents but finds much more along the way. Somer realizes the err of her ways and hopes to patch things up with Usha before it’s too late… I won’t give away the details of what happens next so you’ll have to pick up this book and find out.  Gowda does such a great job artfully developing the rising action, wrapping things up with a fantastic ending.

Secret Daughter is a thought-provoking and emotional read spanning decades, cultural identity, redemption, and women’s roles. Having read this book the week of Mother’s Day, I felt for Somer who so desperately wanted a connection with Asha, but it just wasn’t time yet. It made me think about how tough the “teenage years” were on our parents, how tough it was for them to see us growing up and changing before their eyes while struggling for independence and acceptance to make a life for ourselves as young adults, and how tough it was for us to carve our own place in this world. This book made me appreciate my mom and the new friendship we’ve cultivated over my adult years.

I enjoyed learning about the Indian culture and family ideologies. It makes me realize how much the American culture lacks.  My one criticism and a big roadblock that prevented me from truly committing to the characters and plotline– Gowda overused Gujarati words, terms and slang phrases without defining them in English. I could only interrupt my reading so many times to grab my phone and google the foreign words before it became too laborious and disruptive. I felt like an outsider at times, whereas the reader should be let into the curious worlds of each character as their story is told. I often feel a bit removed when I read books written in third person narrative but hoped for more out of this book. Only when I finished the book did I come across the Gujarati glossary of terms on the last page…ok, seriously? I’m not rereading this book! I felt like Gowda could have annotated the first page, or given us a forward to share the glossary’s location. What good is the glossary at the end when I don’t know it’s there?! I bet if Gowda had bloggers to read this book before it went to print, she would have gotten similar feedback to either put the glossary first or at least let us know it exists! All in all, I definitely recommend you read this book, and when you do, please be aware of the glossary BEFORE you begin your reading so you’re not in dark like I was 🙂 I finished this book feeling satisfied with a contented grin.

4.5/5 stars

25 down, 27 to go!

In progress, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt




Author Spotlight:: Laura Bush:: May 7, 2010

Last night I had the privilege of attending Laura Bush’s Author Interview and Q&A at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. Currently on a 22 city book tour, Laura Bush began her journey with a few stops in the DC-area. After book signings in McLean and Arlington, her last stop in Virginia was an interview with journalist Cokie Roberts. On May 6, 2010 at Lisner Auditorium before heading to Dallas to continue her book tour, Mrs. Bush opened up about her story and memories in the public eye.

My aunt and I attended and were able to get signed copies of her memoir, Spoken from the Heart. Regardless of one’s politicial views, it was fascinating to sit in the same room with and listen to the woman who previously served as First Lady of the United States for 8 years. She read an excerpt from her book describing when she met George W. Bush and about their wedding. The audience laughed, applauded, and listened intently to every word. Theirs is truly a story of romance and endurance. Congrats to the Bushes for celebrating 33 years together this year!

Cokie Roberts asked insightful questions that allowed Mrs. Bush to open up candidly. From her family’s suffering in trying to have a large family, to the tragic car accident that took the life of her friend; from her journey as a part of one of America’s most prominent political families to her tireless efforts for causes such as education and literacy, Mrs. Bush was honest, endearing, and engaging. 

I am thrilled I found out about this event when tickets were still available and I started reading her book as soon as I got home. At 432 pages, I don’t know I will get through it in a week to stay on track for this year’s challenge. But I’m very excited to take my time, read it and learn her fascinating story.

Thanks to Laura for founding the Texas Book Festival 15 years ago and the National Book Festival. I can’t imagine a life without books and thank you for sharing a love of reading with all of us. And most of all, thank you for sharing your story.

Happy reading,


(Book review on Spoken from the Heart to follow)



Book #16: Fabookulous May 4, 2010

Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility by Charles Swindoll

Book description:
Elijah the Tishbite. He stepped out of nowhere to become a significant prophet of God. The rugged, gaunt prophet from the obscure town of Tishbeh became God’s powerful instrument of confrontation.
Alone, Elijah faced off with over four hundred prophets of the false god Baal…and won. Yet, on another occasion, he became so terrified of a woman that he ran for his life. He was a man who God sent His ravens to feed. A man who God loved so much that He prepared a special chariot and horses of fire to transport him from earth to heaven. He was Elijah–the man in a whirlwind, the humble hero.
Like Elijah, we’re all subject to times of bravery and times of fear. One day we’re able to face life with a smile; the next, we feel crushed by its oppressive weight. We vacillate from courageous to cowardly, from hopeful to hopeless. Like Elijah, we are ordinary people with seemingly overwhelming problems. And the answer is in God alone as the name Elijah indicates: It means, The Lord is my God.
He lived courageously with his peers and walked humbly with his God.

Where are great leaders like Elijah today? Uncompromisingly strong, yet self-controlled. Disciplined, yet forgiving. Audaciously courageous, yet kind. Heroic in the heat of battle, yet humble in the aftermath.
We see a few such men and women, but the list is tragically short. Rarely does someone model these invaluable traits more obviously than God’s mighty prophet Elijah, whose calling was anything but calm and free from conflict. Nevertheless, as you are about to discover in this book. Elijah exemplified true heroism and genuine humility amid the relentless pressure of battle.

Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility is the fifth volume in the best-selling Great Lives from God’s Word series by Charles Swindoll. The series also includes such powerful biographies as Joseph, David, Esther, and Moses.
Exploring the depths of Elijah’s fascinating life as a prophet of God, Swindoll does not gloss over his human weaknesses; rather, he presents an honest picture of this ordinary man who God transformed into His personal spokesman to confront idolatry and evil in the ancient world. You will find that it’s a life worth emulating.
In a world that has lost its way, due in part to the lack of balanced, godly leadership, we are more than ever in need of a few Elijah-like men and women who are not afraid to live courageously among their peers as they walk humbly with their God.

May this book establish deep within you a desire to stand strong for what is right as you bow low before Him who is worthy of your trust and obedience.–Charles Swindoll

Yet another wonderful read by Charles Swindoll! Reading these books remind me of what my grandmother used to tell me. When I was in the 10-12 year old range, I read a lot of R.L. Stine novels (Fear Street series, anyone?) And my grandmother, a devout Christian with G rated thoughts, used to ask me, “Why don’t you read some nicer books like animal stories or biographies?” At the time that just sounded horrendous. But the older I get, the more I really do enjoy both! haha (Guess my Nana was on to something…)

And I can’t help but think she would have loved the Great Lives from God’s Word series by Charles Swindoll. Biographies dedicated to men and women of the Bible, this series teaches what we can learn and take away from their lives to better our own. I have previously read (and loved)  Volume 2: Esther, A Woman of Strength and Dignity and Volume 3: Joseph, A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness.

I was thrilled when I was able to get my hands on a copy of Volume 5 (which was hard to track down; thanks to a local used bookstore I snagged one!) These books not only offer a great study of the person’s life, but Charles Swindoll does a fantastic job of sharing life application principles. I especially felt that the take away messages of Elijah’s story were very powerful. I’ve been talking about some lessons I’ve learned from this volume to anyone who will listen.

I didn’t know much about Elijah before reading this book but I’m glad I read this. His life is a wonderful example of how we can put ourselves through “boot camp” for God, trust in the Lord without hesitation, and do it all with a humble attitude. Humility is a lost art in today’s world and this was a wonderful refresher on the topic.

I highly recommend this book (and series!) to those interested. Other characters featured in the series are David, Moses, Paul, Job, and the greatest life of all: Jesus. Hopefully you’ll see my reviews for the others sometime this year!

5/5 stars.

Happy Reading,



Author Spotlight:: David Zinczenko :: May 3, 2010

Read This, Not That!

My reading progress slowed down a bit last month as I was sidetracked by the shocking book series “Eat This, Not That” . I know, I know. They’ve been around for a while, but my library finally acquired the entire series. And now I too have read all of David Zinczenko’s (pronounced Zin-chenk-oh) ETNT books andthey radically changed my eating habits. I consider myself a savvy grocery shopper and am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to understanding hidden meaning, ingredients, labels and catch phrases like “all natural”, “whole grain”, and “reduced fat”. Rachael Ray had an episode a while back with Zinczenko as a guest. I was so intrigued; I added his series to my library queue when it became available.

The three that I got the most out of: the Restaurant Survival Guide, the Supermarket Guide, and Cook This Not That. Obviously these are reference books which don’t count towards my 52 books read this year. But many of my friends recommended I read them and so I did just that. You’d be surprised at how deceptive the food industry is, including the amount of hair, dust particles and moldy food that is LEGALLY ALLOWED in packaged foods. WHISKEY. TANGO. FOXTROT!!!!!!!!!????????!!!!!!!! I was so keyed up about this that I felt compelled to blog about it. Flip through these books next time you’re at a bookish establishment, you will NOT regret it. I’m tempted to order a few used copies from Paperbackswap just to keep on hand as reference.

On a related note, recently a friend and I re-committed ourselves to one of our favorite free websites, called CalorieCount. I’ve never been one to count calories but the site is so much more than that. It allows you to input what you eat each day, what exercise you do (yes, driving counts!) and does an in-depth analysis based on your body weight, height and age.  This analysis feature is new and improved and a major eye opener to to things-  1) I’m consistently consuming way too much sodium and 2) consistently not consuming enough iron. After just one day of inputting what you eat (it’s linked to restaurant nutrition facts so if you go out it calculates the exact nutritional workup of your journal entries), it has a bar chart and pie chart showing you the breakdown of your eating by carbs, fiber, sodium, protein and all the vitamins. For me the idea is less about weight loss and more about being conscious of what I’m eating. In a sedentary office job environment, so much time is spent just sitting in front of a computer working. Sure, you can use CalorieCount to help monitor your goal if you’d like to lose weight by a certain date. For me though, I really enjoy entering in all the things I eat on a daily basis and seeing how I’m doing each day, helping guide my nutrition. It also works as a placebo effect- you’d probably feel guilty about entering in that snickers bar or donut that you just might stay away! You can also connect with friends and help each other stay motivated.

As we get older, I find the focus more on awareness of what I’m taking in and how I feel. I live a very active lifestyle incorporating exercise, considering myself a pretty healthy eater and savvy restaurant patron. Eating heavy fatty foods doesn’t give a person the energy they need to constantly be on the go and sharp, making  your blood sugar nosedive. Skipping meals is also the WORST possible habit. Thankfully I get very uncomfortable migraines if I don’t eat, so I rarely skip meals. I also love to cook. The Cook This Not That is so eye-opening. One serving of mac and cheese w/ salsa made at home with low-fat milk is only 450 calories. Compare that to a mac & cheese dish from Cheesecake Factory and you’re down 1,475 calories!! Speaking of Cheesecake Factory,  they are one of THE worst restaurant offenders when it comes to calories per serving. Pair that with 2-4 times the average serving size and you’re talking about a dangerous combination for your arteries.

Definitely limiting eating out is key in the calorie crusade. My husband and I have a trend we employ during the warmer months. We live within walking distance from a few “restaurant row” plazas with fantastic dining. Now that the sun stays out a bit longer, if we’re going to eat out, we walk there and back. It’s a great workout, we love getting to spend more time together catching each other up on the day’s happenings, and we feel better by walking off our food afterward. Then, we come home and walk two dogs. It ends up being an awesome way to skip my typical evening exercise video routine when my honey is home early or on his days off. It’s a great trend that we hope to continue as long as the nice weather stays. Another habit that I’ve had for a while- when I know I’ll be dining out with friends or a group, I go check out the restaurant’s nutrition facts online and find a handful of items that are pretty healthful so I’m not swayed by the server trying to “upsell” me on fatty appetizers or “fries with that”. I also request the cook NOT dip my steak into butter, as they do automatically whenever you order a steak at a restaurant so it looks glossy and pretty. Unless you specifically ask, it will be butter soaked. And lastly, when I order a salad with the dressing on the side, I dip my fork in the dressing and then pick up some salad. I’ve noticed consistently I use 1/4 of the dressing I would have if I doused the salad. Little changes in your eating habits have lasting implications.

If nothing else, these books are great to flip through while you’re killing time at a bookstore this summer. I highly recommend them and wish the programming gods would come out with a DROID app for this. 🙂

“DAVID ZINCZENKO, SVP/Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health magazine and Editorial Director of Women’s Health magazine, is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Abs Diet and The Abs Diet for Women. Once an overweight child, Zinczenko has become one of the nation’s leading experts on health and fitness. He is a regular contributor to the Today show and has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, Primetime Live, 20/20, The Rachael Ray Show, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”




Book #24 LibraryLove

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Book description~

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.  Author Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

While on vacation with my family 2 months ago, this blog challenge came up in conversation. My sister-in-law asked how I pick books to read. I explained that I view reading as an extension of my knowledge in this world. In addition to reading fun entertaining “light reads”, I LOVE reading books that enrich my life, teach me about topics previously foreign, and enable me to understand our world a bit.  More than anything, I’ve found my favorite books to be those suggested by close friends and family. So, please, keep the suggestions coming!

My sister-in-law, a cellular biologist at Columbia University, suggested I read this book about the woman whose cells changed the course of biotechnology. This woman’s cervical cancer cells were harvested during a routine procedure in the 1950s and became the first “immortal cells” discovered to grow in culture by human biologists. My sister and brother-in-law, both medical doctors, were also fascinated by the conversation I was having with my SIL. I quickly jotted down the name of the book and was completely intrigued. I requested it from my library but when I got home, I found the library wait was 80 people deep with me the 80th requestor. Then I got a phone call the next day from my sister telling me that Skloot, author of this amazing book just gave a lecture at the top hospital in which they are completing their medical residency! That’s not all- she’d also just gotten an autographed copy of the book by the author herself- talk about serendipity! I was so jealous that I’d JUST missed Skloot’s book tour date in my area. I’d never even HEARD of this book until our fortuitous conversation. I was so excited when I received my sister’s copy in my mailbox (after she read it first, of course)!

Although this book is in the genre of science/cultural studies, I love how it reads like a memoir of Henrietta’s life AND quite a bit of Skloot’s.  Skloot succeeds in combining Henrietta’s biography, an accurate timeline of the progression of biotechnology, along with the political and emotional hurdles she climbed through to write this book. I absolutely commend Skloot for having the patience and fortitude to overcome the racial and generational obstacles she did. Skloot persevered to tell Henrietta’s story once and for all, the way it was meant to be written. With a background in journalism, Skloot does Henrietta’s story much justice and makes her family proud, learning much about her own spirituality along the way. This book had me sucked just by reading this sentence on the cover, “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion dollar industry. More than 20 years later her children found out and they’ll never be the same”.

Scientists nicknamed Henrietta’s cells “HeLa”. Biotechnologists investigated HeLa and began using her husband and children’s cells in research without documented consent. It was only then, more than 40 years after Henrietta’s untimely death that her family finally learned of her “immortality”. The saddest part of all- neither Henrietta’s children nor the Lacks Family decedents ever saw a dime from the multimillion-dollars made off the human biological materials from HeLa’s cells.

HeLa cells are still being used today because they grow so relentlessly in culture, which is rare for cells generally, which have a finite number of divisions. During the polio epidemic, scientists grew mass amounts of HeLa cells to test the vaccine. Before long, a commercial enterprise grew batches for large-scale use. Discoveries piled up. HeLa cells also led to the breakthrough discovery about the human genome and DNA mapping, enabling the creation of genetic tests to find birth defects like Downs Syndrome. Before too long, HeLa went cosmic! NASA launched HeLa into space to analyze how human cells behave in zero-gravity. The cells, in turn, helped launch virology as a field and shot medical research forward with warp speed.

HeLa cells weren’t all used in the most ethical ways. Skloot offered a great historical progression giving the reader much perspective. She went on to discuss the pre-Nuremburg trial era, when the Nazis performed extremely inhumane heinous medical procedures on Jews. Before the Nuremberg Trials or establishment of the Nuremburg Code, there was no regulation on human experimentation. As the book goes deeper into detail, codified ethics were in place to ‘govern’ human medical experimentation. These laws put a stop to doctors performing experiments on a population like prison inmates, whose ability to provide ‘informed consent’ was in question. But are your cells and blood plasma your property? Or are they the property of the hospital to further research? And what happens if the research from your cells could lead to a cure for a disease? Then what? The implications to the body of research are horrific to think about.

According to the book, “Experts on both sides of the debate worry that compensating patients would lead to profit-seekers inhibiting science by insisting on unrealistic financial agreements or demanding money for tissues used in noncommercial or nonprofit research”.

This book makes a great basis for conversation to argue both sides of the debate. For example, before these codified laws, Dr. Southam, mentioned in the book, put up a flyer in a prison asking for inmates to volunteer to be injected with HeLa’s cancerous cells. The findings were amazing- you’ll definitely want to read this book to hear the results and find out more about how HeLa cells are forever connected to “the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of”.

Skloot became an honorary member of the family during her time researching this more than decade-long labor of love.  She even set up a scholarship fund for the Lacks decendents so they may have the educational opportunities Henrietta’s children did not. I recommend this book for anyone living in America, especially those who like me, are fascinated, by the pharmaceutical industry’s treatment of cancer, the idea of socialized healthcare in our country, and ideas about bioethics and cloning. One of the most thought-provoking reads I’ve ever come across.

4.75/5 stars

24 down, 29 to go (almost over the hump)!

In progress, Secret Daughter