My Week in Books // 2-24-21

Last week, it was -30 degrees outside; today, it was 60 degrees. That’s a 90 degree difference in a week!

I LOVE Colorado weather…it changes so frequently that you can never get bored with it!

Anyway, I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading lately…drop me a comment below!

Last Week’s Reads:

*** The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

First of all, Walter Isaacson is the master of writing biographies that are interesting, easy to understand, and make for an enjoying reading experience. I LOVED his book about Steve Jobs, and though his books are loooong, I can’t seem to put them down.

I was a little hesitant that The Code Breaker was going to be over my head. In it, Isaacson introduces us to Jennifer Doudna, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her efforts in discovering ways to fight diseases of all kinds, but especially the coronavirus. While it was very science-y at times, Isaacson made sure I was never entirely lost and I’m surprised at how much I actually feel like I gained in terms of scientific information. The discoveries set forth in this book are lifechanging for all of humanity and it was quite interesting to read about.

When I picked this book up, I wanted to supplement a book I read at the end of 2020, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis. That book gave me a good sense of how coronavirus developed and spread around the world, whereas The Code Breaker helped me understand the way scientist are trying to fight back against the virus. By now, we’re all aware that the vaccine developed to fight off COVID-19 uses new technology that hasn’t ever been used before, and that was also a huge motivating factor in my wanting to read this book. It talks a great deal about this new medical advancement, so if you’re curious in any way about that, I highly recommend you read this book!

I am always in such awe of scientists and their incredible minds. My brain just doesn’t work in a science-y (or mathematical) way. Even when things are explained in rudimentary terms, my mind is still too blown away to grasp what is being said (ie: the concept of infinity…whaaaaaat?).

The biggest complaint I have about this book is its focus on a whole cast of characters! While I know they’re all central to the story of Doudna and her discoveries, I’m not sure the in-depth look into some of it was entirely necessary. For this reason, the book didn’t read as submersively as Steve Jobs’ book did, but I still highly recommend if this is a topic that even remotely interests you!

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Let me start by saying I know NOTHING about Shakespeare…NOTHING…and it didn’t matter one bit. So, if like me, that’s one of your reasons for avoiding this book, don’t let it deter you a second more!

I easily would have missed out on this beautiful book if I had remained hung up on the Shakespeare connection. Because of that teeny, tiny connection, I thought this book wasn’t for me…and I was sadly mistaken. Thank you to the many people who featured, reviewed, and named this one of their favorite books of 2020 – for all of those reasons, I decided to give this book a chance and I’M SO GLAD I DID!

The writing is gorgeous from the first page and I quickly found myself fully immersed in this story. It’s really more about Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, and their three kids. (In fact, Shakespeare isn’t mentioned even once – despite the fact that, I, myself, have mentioned him about a million times already in this review! 🤦🏼‍♀️) I was struck by Agnes’ strength and character; she felt so life-like and heroic that I became an adoring fan of her quickly. If you love strong female protagonists, add this to your list because you’ll end up loving it just as much as I did.

There are strong themes of loss, grief, and resilience. All of these build up to a bombastic conclusion that reiterates the idea that grief strikes us all differently and that how we chose to handle that grief isn’t necessarily wrong. I loved how O’Farrell ended this novel…and it truly made me love Agnes even more. She has become one of my favorite literary characters after reading this one!

*** Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

The Last Call Killer stalked the gay community of New York City, terrorizing gay men for years as murders went unsolved. Not only was it a time when the AIDS epidemic was high, but simply being out as a gay man was dangerous enough. Cops targeted gay bars and looked the other way when dealing with crimes against homosexuals. It was the perfect set up for a serial killer to stalk a community.

I love a true crime novel, and while this one had a ton of potential, it lacked in some tighter editing. I felt like I was unable to find my stride with this book as the author really dove into the personal backgrounds of the victims. I’m not opposed to this and appreciated humanizing the victims, but the narrative was jarring and disjointed. Had it flowed a little easier, I would have been able to engage a lot more.

I also thought the story got a bit bogged down by the author’s attention to detail at times. Green mentions a ton of New York landmarks, locations, and street names which just confused me even more. I’m sure for native New Yorkers this will be an appreciated addition, but as someone who doesn’t know NYC well, it challenged my comprehension with unnecessary cross streets and intersections. I feel like there’s an easier way to do this to appeal to a larger (not local) audience.

This book had a ton of potential, but ended up feeling like a first edit vs a finished book. I still glad I read it, but I wish my take away would have been greater.

*** American Daughter: A Memoir by Stephanie Thornton Plymale

The description said this memoir is for fans of Educated and The Glass Castle and I’d have to say I wholeheartedly agree! Stephanie had a terrible upbringing – homelessness, foster care, sexually abused – the list is long and heartbreaking. Her mother suffered from mental illness and addiction, leaving Stephanie and her siblings to fend for themselves.

Stephanie is a great writer. Her prose immediately sucked me in and I knew I was in it for the long haul. Her journey with her mother was interesting – at the beginning of the book, they were nearly estranged, but as the book progressed, Stephanie’s mother becomes ill and she knows she wants to understand her mother as much as she can while she is able to get some answers. Through these revelations, Stephanie gains insight into her mother’s life and slowly begins to forgive her and have compassion for her. It really was a beautiful transformation that really reminds the reader that what others see on the outside is only a piece of the puzzle. Without excusing her mother’s behavior, Stephanie was able to heal her pain when she had more insight into her mother’s past.

What I absolutely hated about this book was Plymale’s exploration of her own marital issues with her husband. I appreciate that her husband was her saving grace, but the focus of the book should have stayed on her mother. This is a memoir, not an autobiography, so there was no need for Stephanie to stray into her personal problems in her marriage. To be honest, while I had a lot of compassion for Stephanie’s upbringing, the way she spoke to and about her husband darkened my opinion of her. I’m not saying there wasn’t value in her explorations of her unhappiness, but maybe it should have been in a different book. The two parts really didn’t compliment each other and I was way more invested in the mother/daughter relationship.

Current Reads:

*** Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Almooooost finished…about 100 pages left!

*** How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays by Kiese Laymon

This is a super quick read and I’m halfway through in just one sitting (probably could have finished if I didn’t have mom duties to attend to!), and it’s powerful!

*** This Is All I Got by Lauren Sandler

Have only read the prologue to this one, but it’s very promising so far!

(#partner #freebooks: All books noted by asterisks (***) indicate I received the book for free from the publisher, the author, or another promotional company to review. All opinions are my own.)

Here’s my most recent posts in case you missed them:

7 thoughts on “My Week in Books // 2-24-21

  1. Me… I’m one of those bloggers who named Hamnet my #1 favorite of 2020! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. O’Farrell is a very special writer and I’ve read everything she’s written. This is her masterpiece (um… so far)!

    Liked by 1 person

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