Source: Library

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Perspective-Swapped Jane Eyre Retellings

July 19, 2021 Uncategorized 8 ★½

Perspective-Swapped Jane Eyre RetellingsTitle: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys, Andrea Ashworth
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:one-half-stars

Based on whether or not I’ve found books to love, I must admit that my project to read a bunch of Jane Eyre retellings hasn’t been a complete success. Fortunately, I have simply enjoyed spending a lot of time with one text. It adds some depth to my experience to see so many different takes on the same material. This retelling from the perspective of both Bertha and Rochester, covering their meeting and marriage, is itself a classic. Nevertheless, it was one of my least favorite retellings so far. I worry that this is at least partially because I’m not familiar with novels from the Caribbean literary tradition. My expectations may simply not match the project the author is taking on here. I also think I might have enjoyed this more if I read it in a class, where I could try to understand it through deeper analysis with other people. Read more »

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Science True Crime in Review: The Monsanto Papers

July 12, 2021 Uncategorized 7 ★★★★½

Science True Crime in Review: The Monsanto PapersTitle: The Monsanto Papers: Deadly Secrets, Corporate Corruption, and One Man’s Search for Justice
Author: Carey Gillam
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-half-stars

Summary: A gripping story where the author did a great job portraying complex characters.

In the past decade, there have been numerous law suits aimed at holding Monsanto accountable for hiding the fact that their flagship weedkiller, RoundUp, can cause cancer. This story focuses on one of the first of those cases. Lee Johnson was a hardworking school handyman, who had an accident that led to him being covered in RoundUp. He then developed an aggressive cancer that upended his life with his family and was expected to kill him before his case came to trial. In addition to Lee’s story, we also get to know the lawyers who chose to pursue these cases. While they can make an absurd amount of money if they win these cases, they also risk a lot of money and put in a ton of effort to get these cases to trial.

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A New Science Classic in Review: A Crack in Creation

July 8, 2021 Uncategorized 7 ★★★

A New Science Classic in Review: A Crack in CreationTitle: A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution
Author: Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

Summary: A valuable perspective, but less comprehensive or engaging than the more recent Isaacson bio.

This memoir from Dr. Jennifer Doudna, Nobel prize-winning co-discoverer of the CRISPR gene editing system, is sure to become a science classic. Like The Double Helix by James Watson, it’s a chance to hear about an incredible scientific discovery from one of the scientists involved. Read more »

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Jane Eyre Inspired Stories in Review

June 28, 2021 Uncategorized 4 ★★

Jane Eyre Inspired Stories in ReviewTitle: Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre
Author: Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Briscoe, Susan Hill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nadifa Mohamed, Audrey Niffenegger, Patricia Park, Francine Prose, Namwali Serpell, Elif Shafak, Lionel Shriver, Salley Vickers, Emma Donoghue, Evie Wyld, Helen Dunmore, Esther Freud, Jane Gardam, Linda Grant, Kirsty Gunn, Tessa Hadley, Sarah Hall
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:two-stars

Short story collections by disparate authors rarely work well for me. I think this is even more likely to be true if the stories are ‘literary’ and/or not sci-fi or fantasy. This story collection fit that pattern. A lot of them left me wondering what the point was. They were a bit bleak or depressing and nothing much happened. The endings were often quite open ended. Sometimes I feel like people confuse those two qualities – bleakness and unsettling endings – for literary quality. The bulk of the stories also failed to interact with the source material as much as I would have liked. Simply being set on the moors and having a focus on marriage wasn’t enough for me to feel the joy of spotting hidden connections to another book. It also didn’t give the stories more depth. Even the stories that directly mention Jane Eyre could have swapped in another book without significantly impacting the story. Read more »

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YA Jane Eyre Retellings in Review

June 23, 2021 Uncategorized 2 ★★★

YA Jane Eyre Retellings in ReviewTitle: Jane, Unlimited
Author: Kristin Cashore
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

I’ve included this book in my Jane Eyre retellings post because I picked it up expecting it to be one. That’s not entirely accurate however. It’s more like a story that contains a bunch of tiny little references to both Jane Eyre and a number of other classics. The primary similarity to Jane Eyre is that we have a plain, outspoken heroine named Jane who will be staying with wealthier friends as a dependent. Shortly after Jane arrives at her friend’s mysterious house, she’s offered a choice of five clues she could follow up on. The book then breaks into five short stories each in a different genre. They appear to be alternate possible futures, following from Jane’s choice. The overlap between the stories, combined with some vivid writing, helped develop a strong sense of place and well-rounded characterizations.  With the exception of one story that was much too bleak, I had a lot of fun reading all of them. Even the horrifying one had a forward momentum I enjoyed. Some of the stories weren’t believable to me, because people’s motivations weren’t convincing. However, what keeps me from rating this higher is that it lacked depth. The author did an impressive job writing satisfying short stories in 50-80 pages, but from a book, I wanted more development of one story or for the stories to at least reconnect.

As an aside, I had missed how easy it is to fly through YA! This was not in any way a poorly done or poorly written story. The structure was quite clever and I could see it appearing in literary fiction. But the straightforward writing and a fictional story I wasn’t trying to learn anything from gave my brain a much-needed vacation. Read more »

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Science Nonfiction: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

June 21, 2021 Uncategorized 6 ★★★★★

Science Nonfiction: She Has Her Mother’s LaughTitle: She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity
Author: Carl Zimmer
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:five-stars

Summary: This was an engaging, fresh look at some fascinating science history and current questions in science.

Although the description of this book promises “a profoundly original perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation”, I was skeptical. I’ve read a lot of books on genetics at this point and a lot of the anecdotes are getting stale. I’m pleasantly surprised to report, however, that this book really did give a fresh perspective on several interesting topics in genetics. These topics were connected to one another in a new way conceptually, which was very cool. And this new perspective meant that the anecdotes and science history the author included weren’t always the same old stories I’ve read over and over again. These stories were told in such engaging ways that I couldn’t put this down. Read more »

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Narrative Nonfiction Review: The Premonition

June 9, 2021 Uncategorized 8 ★★★★★

Narrative Nonfiction Review: The PremonitionTitle: The Premonition: A Pandemic Story
Author: Michael Lewis
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:five-stars

Summary: Every reader should check out this gripping, accessible story of the US COVID response.

As the New York Times Book Review-er John Williams says in a cover blurb “I would read an 800-page history of the stapler if [Michael Lewis] wrote it”. I know this is true, because I’ve already books by him on stats in baseball (Moneyball) and the housing crisis (The Big Short). However, I thought this was by far the best of his books I’ve read and I think part of that was due to the fascinating topic. Here, the author looks at the state of pandemic preparedness in the US pre-COVID. Then the second half of the book gives us an insider look at people who did their heroic best during the early days of the COVID crisis and at why our systems failed anyway. Read more »

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A Trio of Bronte Biographies: Original, Scholarly, and Contemporary

May 24, 2021 Uncategorized 9 ★★★

A Trio of Bronte Biographies: Original, Scholarly, and ContemporaryTitle: The Life of Charlotte Brontë
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell, Angus Easson
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:three-stars

I’ve found that I enjoy reading several books on the same topic, so when I wanted to clear a Charlotte Bronte bio from my shelves, I decide to pick two other biographies at the same time. The first, by Charlotte Bronte’s acquaintance and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell, was the first Bronte biography to be written. I think this biography is a great place to start learning about the Brontes. It’s the origin of much of the Bronte mythology, so it provides a good foundation. It’s a little bit of work to read, because the language is older. Still, it was also fascinating to see how this contemporary of Charlotte Bronte viewed her and her family. The antiquated social mores could be extremely entertaining. Extensive quotes from letters gave an intimate look at who Charlotte Bronte was. However, I wouldn’t recommend this as your only Charlotte Bronte biography, because my next read revealed that Gaskell sometimes distorted or omitted facts to portray Charlotte in a more positive light. Read more »

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Nonfiction About the US Supply Chain in Review

May 5, 2021 Uncategorized 12 ★★★★

Nonfiction About the US Supply Chain in ReviewTitle: The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket
Author: Benjamin Lorr
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:four-stars

Summary: Engaging and informative, I enjoyed how this work of investigative journalism used personal stories to give us a behind-the-scenes look at US grocery stores.

I sure do know how to write a click-bait post title :p Believe it or not, these books on the supply chain in the US were actually quite gripping. Sometimes depressing too, but this topic impacts our lives so intimately that I loved learning more. The first of these books was about how we get our groceries in the US. It covers everything from the rise of Trader Joe’s to the life of a trucker (grim), from what it takes to get your product on supermarket shelves to slave labor employed in the shrimp fishing industry (even more grim). I appreciated that there were some lighter topics in here. It made it easier to enjoy this book, while also learning about some of the horrifying realities that currently support the convenience of the modern grocery store. Read more »

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#Science Biography Review: The Codebreaker

April 19, 2021 Uncategorized 5 ★★★★★

#Science Biography Review: The CodebreakerTitle: The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race
Author: Walter Isaacson
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Rating:five-stars

Summary: An engaging, personal look at some incredible scientific achievements.

I’ve been looking forward to this biography of Noble prize-winning scientist Jennifer Doudna for months. I worked on a protein used for gene editing in grad school (the TALENs briefly mentioned in this book), so the topic is of personal interest to me. I’ve also heard great things about Walter Isaacson’s biographies of other notable thinkers, including da Vinci and Einstein. And I was interested in learning more about Jennifer Doudna, as she’s one of the most high profile female scientists I’m aware of. For all of these reasons, I had very high expectations for this book and it still exceeded them. Even at almost 500 pages, it was an engaging read that flew by, explaining the science clearly and giving a really intimate look at the people involved. Read more »

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