Syria’s Secret Library: a Review

I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My thoughts remain my own.

Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Small Town Under Siege by Mike Thomson

Book description:

The remarkable, improbable story of a small, makeshift library in the Syrian town of Darayya, and the people who found hope and humanity in its books during the four-year siege they endured.


My thoughts:

It’s hard to decide what would be the most critical item to have on hand if your city was under siege. Food, medicine, clean water? How about books? I bet you didn’t even think about books. For Darayya, a town right in the middle of Syria’s civil war, books were the thing that kept people going.

Some remarkable young men decided to save as many books as they could, gathering them from abandoned buildings, digging through rubble, even under the bombing. They did this to create a hidden library where anyone could come and escape into another world.
When the library became a hit, they started offering classes on reading, lessons in Engliah, and lectures on many subjects.

I found the story fascinating, but it was frustrating at times. It’s not organized well. They author skips from subject to subject. Sometimes the quotes are well used to illustrate a point, but often they’re just stuck in there and they go on too long.

It’s a sobering reflection on modern warfare. It makes me angry that the world stood by and did nothing. Now the flow of refugees is a crisis, but with timely intervention, perhaps it could have been avoided. Read this one not for the writing, but for the story of these brave individuals.

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The End of the Beginning: a Review

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I received this book from Net Galley for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My thoughts remain my own.

The End of the Beginning: Cancer, Immunity, and the Future of a Cure by Michael Kinch

My thoughts:

Cancer is a frightening word. Even with all the advancements in early diagnosis, screenings tests, and chemotherapy, it’s still a word that no one wants to hear. My dad died of advanced cancer 9 years ago. They couldn’t even tell where it has started and it was too late to matter. He died a week later.

So if you hand me a book about what’s next in the treatment of the disease, I will definitely read it. This book, however, really exceeded my expectations. There’s so much in here, from what cancer is exactly and how humans came to understand the disease to how we began to fight it.

It’s incredibly rich and detailed. I wouldn’t call it an easy read. It’s full of names and scientific concepts you will never have heard of. But it was fascinating stuff. And for all the assumptions that people have about the disease, I came away from the book feeling quite positive about the future. So many brilliant researchers are working on so many different treatments. One way or another, humans are going to beat this disease.

Book Quote

I know I just did one of these, but this paragraph blew my mind! I had to share it.

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Eight day old human embryo , courtesy of New Scientist

“Energy and life go hand in hand. If you stop breathing, you will not be able to generate the energy you need for staying alive and you’ll be dead in a few minutes. Keep breathing. Now the oxygen in your breath is being transported to virtually every one of the 15 trillion cells in your body, where it is used to burn glucose in cellular respiration. You are a fantastically energetic machine. Gram per gram, even when sitting comfortably, you are converting 10 000 times more energy than the sun every second.

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

More about this book from the publisher:

Mitochondria are pivotal in power, sex, and suicide. In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest research findings in this exciting field to show how our growing understanding of mitochondria is shedding light on how complex life evolved, why sex arose (why don’t we just bud?), and why we age and die. This understanding is of fundamental importance, both in understanding how we and all other complex life came to be, but also in order to be able to control our own illnesses, and delay our degeneration and death. 

May Reading Wrap Up

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Hello readers! May is over so I thought I would do a wrap up of my reading month. It looks like it was a pretty good month, so let me get started.

Let me start with the bad, and work up to the good!

Books I DNF’d

The Christie Curse (Book Collector #1) by Victoria Abbott – I remembered why I don’t like modern cozy mysteries.

The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel (Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency #2) by David Casarett – just lost interest. It made me hungry though!

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis – flipped through a few pages, got the general idea.

Crossed Out by Kim Baccellia – didn’t realize it was a YA paranormal, didn’t fit for me.

The Invisible Hand (The Cost of Freedom #3) by Chris Northern – I loved the previous books in this series. What happened?

Not a bad amount, although it felt like there were more. There were a few books I read a few pages of and then decided I wasn’t in the mood to finish, so I decided to try later, but I’m not going to list them.


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Audiobooks

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9) by Alan Bradley. Fun, but not his best. 2.75 stars

Captain’s Fury (Codex Alera #4)  by Jim Butcher. Still like the characters, but the writing is started to bug me. 3.5 stars

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Dense, highly technical writing made relevant with personal stories. Mind blowing stuff. 5 stars

I’m kind of surprised the number is so low. What was I listening to? Did I just forget to track it? I don’t know.


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Books I read

Red Sister and Gray Sister (Books of the Ancestor 1 & 2) by Mark Lawrence. Freaking awesome! 5 stars each.

The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay #2) by Chris Wooding. Lots of fun and I *loved* the ending. 4.5 stars

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi. Not a bad story in here. 4 stars

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards. Reviewed here.

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home. Promising series debut set in Scotland. 4 stars

Murder in Little Shendon by A H Henderson. Also a mystery debut, set in mid-20th century England. 4 stars

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Totally original teen dystopia by Australia writer. 5 stars

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Conteur. Why chemistry matters! 5 stars

A Bone of Contention: The Third Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew by Matthew Gregory. Medieval mystery set in Oxford. 4 stars.


Longest book read: The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee, 592 pages

On my TBR the longest: Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Conteur, since Feb 2012

Most disappointing: The Invisible Hand by Chris Northern. Went from a military fantasy fighting necromancers in book 1 to economic theory in book 3. Yawn.

Epic Awesome: Red Sister and Gray Sister by Mark Lawrence. You need to read these!

Coziest comfort read: Resorting to Murder. Perfect for a day sick in bed.


Like I said, a really good month! This month I’m hoping to stick to more of my own books, and not borrow from the library. I have so many physical book around here I would like to read. But I don’t make a specific TBR for each month. How was your reading in May? Let me know in the comments or post a link to your list. Happy reading!

Encore Review: The Colony

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The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai by John Tayman

Themes: illness, superstition, compassion, love, science
Setting: Molokai, Hawaii 1866-1970s

Leprosy. It’s a horrible disease. It makes your extremities fall off. It’s horribly contagious. It causes nasty oozing sores that spread germs to everyone you pass by. It’s always fatal. And there’s still no cure.

Except that none of this is true. Well, it is a pretty horrible disease, if not treated. But there is a very effective treatment available. It’s not very contagious at all. Only a small portion of the population is susceptible to it in the first place. Even then, only some of them get the worst form. It’s more a matter of nerve damage and swelling. And diagnosis is a matter of minutes, so getting started with the right treatment now takes just days.

What a change from the past. This book is all about the bad old days of leprosy, and in the United States, it didn’t get worse than in Hawaii. Hawaiians were some of those that for some reason were particularly prone to catching leprosy. And back then, there was no treatment available. They could diagnose it, all right. Then they would pack you up and ship you off, without another word, off to Molokai, the leper colony. Good luck to you.

Incredible story, and it’s all true. At least, the author says it’s all true. Apparently there’s some controversy. But it made for great reading. It was shocking stuff. I couldn’t believe how they treated lepers like criminals. It’s not a crime to be sick. (Although in this country, I often wonder.) But they were treated like they had done something wrong by getting a disease. I couldn’t put it down. 4 stars.

Currently Reading

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Hey! How’s everyone? I’ve been living the spring weather here in the Rocky Mountains. Lilacs and forsythias are blooming, the tulips just finished and the irises are starting. It’s great to have all the windows open.

I have a couple of fantasy series I’ve been steadily getting through this spring. The first is the Jim Butcher Codex Alera series. I’ve been doing then on audio and really enjoying them. I do think Butcher’s female characters are not his strong point, but I have loved the character growth in here. I’m also reading the Mark Lawrence series Book of the Ancestor. I flew through the first two books but I don’t have a copy of the third. Definitely recommended.

Right now I have 3 nonfiction books I’m reading. Syria’s Secret Library is from Net Galley. Very interesting so far, but I’ve barely started. Then I’m reading Power, Sex, and Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane, also just started, and Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History   from the library. I’m almost done with that one and it’s been fascinating stuff.

How about you? What are you reading? Tell me what’s good!

Book Review: Nelson’s Trafalgar

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Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World by Roy Adkins

Nonfiction

Summary:

In this account of the Battle of Trafalgar, Roy Adkins stunningly evokes the unsurpassed violence of nineteenth-century naval warfare. For more than five hours, sixty ships fought at close quarters as their occupants struggled under the constant barrage of cannon and musket fire, amid choking fumes and ear-splitting explosions. Nelson’s navy was severely outgunned; twenty-seven British battleships carrying 2,150 guns faced thirty-three French and Spanish ships carrying 2,640 guns. Yet the British gunners, quicker and more disciplined, carried the day. While the men maneuvered the ships and kept the cannons firing, the women tended the sick and helped the boys carry gunpowder cartridges to the gun decks. When Nelson died in the midst of the battle, French Vice-Admiral Villeneuve remarked that “to any other nation the loss of a Nelson would have been irreparable, but in the British Fleet off Cadiz, every captain was a Nelson.” Adkins has drawn on a broad range of primary source material to write this powerful, unforgettably vivid history that captures as never before the harsh conditions in which sailors lived and died, the mechanics of nautical combat and the human costs of the conflict. 

Review:

Absolutely brilliant. If you have an interest in history, particularly European or military or maritime history, you must read this book.

Let me start with what it is not. It is not a biography. The various figures central to the conflict are briefly profiled, but certainly not in any depth.

It is not about politics. Or economy, or the history of the war, the causes of conflict, or even about any of the land battle related to Napoleon.

It’s about the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s about the weeks immediately preceding the conflict, followed by an incredibly detailed account of the events of the battle itself, drawn from primary sources and supported with charts, maps, and portraits of the people involved. And then it’s about the consequences of this battle. It is everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t want.

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Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté,

The author does a great job of explaining the events, which I expected, but he also explains the significance of the battle as well. Without going into too much detail, he sets the whole event in its historical context.

I really can’t recommend it enough. I’m so glad my library had this book. I’m giving it 5 stars.

 

Lamarck’s Revenge : A Review

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Title: Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present

Author: Peter Ward

I was very pleased to receive this one for review. I am a big science nerd, and learning about epigenetics sounded fascinating. Unfortunately, the writing was not as good as the concept. Much of the data was repetitive, and the book was organized in a very strange way. It wasn’t until I was almost 1/3 of the way through that the book got down to specific examples of epigenetics in action that it really became interesting for me. If you are really interested in the subject, this might appeal to you, but I would bet there are better books out there.

Thanks you to Library Thing and the publisher for giving the me the chance to read this one. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My opinions remain my own.

Weekend reading📓

Hey, it’s Speedy Reader. It’s been an intense week, for lots of reasons, but I have had the chance to start an awesome new nonfiction book. It’s called Life and Death in the Andes by Kim MacQuarrie. It’s a collection of stories, arranged more or less geographically, that cover crime, history, religion, and culture. It really makes me want to visit South America. I’m loving this on audio. Enthusiastic recommendation here! What are you reading?

Walter Cronkite, a biography

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Walter Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley

I was very excited to read this biography as Walter Cronkite has always been someone I admire. I remember watching him when I was a little girl. He was the news anchor on CBS. I still remember his last broadcast on the day he retired.

Unfortunately, the book wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. The information was interesting, but it was presented fact after fact, with little attempt to break it up into meaningful chunks or themes. I listened to this one and I think that was a mistake. The reader had a rather monotone voice that nearly put me to sleep.