Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: July 2014

Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen


Spanning over 400 pages and telling the story from 1721 to the present day, Vaccine is a work of great scope. It starts out with the smallpox epidemic in Boston, Cotton Mather, and newfangled “variolation”, then proceeds to the 1940’s and 50’s issues with polio and measles, and rounds out the tale with the controversial DTP vaccine, a discussion of the alleged link between vaccines and autism, and an entire chapter devoted to anti vaccinators, those who would see their children suffer and die a horrible death from whooping cough and other childhood sicknesses. 

Blending science, mystery, drama, and politics, this book has something for everyone. Fun fact: the beloved Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls were created by a well known illustrator, Johnny Gruelle, after his daughter Marcella was supposedly sickened by a vaccine given at school without his permission. The book tells that “The doll, with its limp limbs, became a symbol of vaccine-damaged children, and Marcella was the heroine of the Raggedy Ann stories that Gruelle went on to illustrate.”

Another fun fact: During the frantic search for the flu vaccine in 2004, there was also a pertussis (Whooping Cough) epidemic quietly making the rounds, with more than 19,000 cases that year. There were only 11,647 in 2003. 

Anti vaccinators would storm the Internet looking for like minded souls and then get together to protest the government’s forced vaccination requirements for school children. In a ludicrous-sounding passage, a mother tells the author that it is good when her children get ill, because then everyone can take the time to slow down and spend time together. The book then goes on to tell how one child spent 6 months coughing, for most of the day and night, with spells of alternating vomiting and coughing from his illness. Another child broke a rib coughing; and a woman had to be hospitalized because she was in danger of losing her unborn child (her cervix was being nearly ruptured from the hacking.

The descriptions of the illnesses are detailed but not gory, and as you read you will find yourself thinking a lot more about the simple “shots” we all got as a kid. 

At times a bit long winded, and necessarily full of politics, Vaccine was interesting but not enthralling.  I didn’t feel it was a waste of my time, because I learned a great deal, and in the end I was glad my parents took me to the doctor and protected me. Whether you are for or against vaccines, you should read this book.


Women Of The Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

A few months ago I had read one of Tsukiyama’s books, and thought it was pretty good. I then immediately put the rest of her works on my Goodreads list. The other day the library informed me that this was available for me to pick up. 

I made it to page 103 before deciding to throw it back. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s written well and I’m sure it’s a lovely book. However, it just didn’t move fast enough for me. To me, it was like Muzak, soothing, pleasant, but nothing ever really happens. 

The story is about young girls as silk workers in China in 1926, and according to the blurb, they eventually strike due to poor working conditions. The book, at least up to page 103, describes the girls and their former life, interspersed with their life at the factory. I grew weary of the constant pages of nothing happening, except eating, and wishing they were back home, and jumping back and forth between characters. It also seemed to me that their names were all alike and I could not remember who was who, and so I began to not care about which character was talking. 

That was the beginning of the end. I have too many other books in the bullpen to waste any more time. There are more Tsukiyama books planned; I just hope the subject matter is more exciting. 



The Reading Lessons by Carole Lanham

I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Carole!

The first few pages were rather disjointed and I almost put the book away unread. I was THISCLOSE to doing it…but something made me keep going.

Boy, am I glad I did! The writing is sly, at times heartfelt, sometimes maudlin, and there are many hidden gems along the way. The plot is fairly simple: boy meets girl, boy becomes gently obsessed with girl, girl is evil and strings him along. At times I wanted to shake Hadley and say “Forget her! She’s a jerk!” but of course, he didn’t listen to anyone else, so my advice would be falling on deaf ears. 

Follow Hadley along as he grows older and tries to forget his obsession, with results you won’t see coming. When I think of how I almost missed this little golden story it made me think to give more books another chance. 
I would definitely read more by this author. These characters will stay with me a long time.

the reading lessons

Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy From Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” by Donald McCaig

10 stars!! This was one of the better reads I’ve encountered in a long time. Written by the same man who wrote “Rhett”, (the prequel to Gone With The Wind about Rhett Butler), this is another prequel starring Mammy, Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved companion. We learn about her family, her early years, and the book ends just as the Civil War begins. Thrilling backstory with many of the familiar GWTW characters. Interesting, excellently written, and a complete joy. Run, do not walk, to buy this book when it is published later on this year. 

Many thanks to the publishers, Atria Books, for giving me this in exchange for an honest review. It was a pleasure.

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

This book was: Intense. Graphic. Twisted. I loved it. Unreliable narrator + summer heat + unscrupulous people + grandiose sense of what is “right”…I read this in one day. Get it. Read it. Be thankful you are not like these people. Be more thankful your doctor is not like this…or is he?

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