Year 5, Book 18

18. Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
As a Baltimorean I like to read Anne Tyler’s books just because they are set in Baltimore. This book is about a man in his 50s who is downsized from his job as a teacher and moves in to a new apartment where he is attacked during a robbery attempt. The attack leads him to meet a younger woman with whom he becomes involved as well as reconnect in some ways with his three daughters. It was an ok book I think. Not one of Tyler’s best in my opinion, but Tyler fans will still enjoy it. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 17

17. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

I actually enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated. I am often leary of memoir type books that are the second or third or fourth (I’m looking at you Augusten Burroughs) memoir being put out by an author who has hit it big with their first memoir. As if I have nothing better to do than continuously read about your life. Greg Mortenson is obviously slightly different in that Three Cups of Tea was not written specifically by him and he has a much larger purpose in life than to just drone on about his personal problems.

This book picks up where Three Cups of Tea leaves off with the Central Asian Institute attempting to move into Afghanistan to start building schools there. It was winds up covering the period of time of the devastating earthquake in Pakistan. This book was much less about Mortenson than Three Cups of Tea was and much more about the mission and the projects. Despite it’s size I found it to be a really quick read that I much enjoyed. I do admire Mortenson’s mission and work and hope that these books continue to provide the publicity and funding he needs to continue it. It give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 16

16. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wow, I have fallen behind in my book reviews. It feels like forever since I read this book. Wolf Hall was the Man Booker prize winner for 2009. I usually really enjoy the Man Booker prize winning books, so I was kind of interested in reading the book. On the other hand though it just didn’t sound that interesting to me. The book is about the Tudors, and I am not usually that interested in historical fiction. But the book continued to win awards and receive rave reviews, so I finally broke down and decided to read it. All 532 pages of this really long and boring book. Someone who cares more about historical fiction than I might enjoy it. And obviously many people did based on all the awards and reviews. I however was not one of them.

The story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is told through the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. It was somewhat interesting to see the story told through his perspective rather than in a third person narrative or through the eyes of either Henry or Anne, but it’s still the same story. I know the story and having been watching the Tudors on Showtime I didn’t feel like I was getting much new beyond that. So it just really couldn’t hold my attention. I forced myself to finish it hoping it would get better or I would pick up on whatever it was that I seemed to be missing. Unfortunately I wish I had just stopped reading it earlier. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 15

15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I saw a lot of good publicity about this book leading up to it’s publication, and was waiting to read it with great anticipation. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint. I expect to see it on a lot of best of 2010 book lists at the end of this year.

The book is the story of the HeLa cells, which were the first tissue cells to create an immortal line of human cells. They have been reproduced millions upon millions of times and used in scientific and medical research on just about everything imaginable. For a long time nothing was known about the woman from whom the initial tissue sample was taken. At some point in the 70’s it came out that her name was Henrietta Skloot and she was an African-American woman who was treated at Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer, where a piece of one of her tumors was saved and went on to become the HeLa cells.

Out of her own curiousity Skloot wants to find out more about this woman and begins to investigate. The book is equally the story of the Henrietta Lacks and her cells as it is about her attempts to research the subject, particularly her interactions with Henrietta’s family specifically her daughter Deborah.

I learned a lot reading the book and it brings up a lot of medical ethics questions. It was not dry in any way though. I would highly recommend it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 14

14. House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I actually won a copy of this book from the Baltimore Sun’s Read Street blog, so I got my hands on it before it was even released to the public. Nifty cool, that. And something I miss from working in a bookstore where I used to get advanced reader’s copies of books all the time.

Now on to the review. As with my review of her previous book, Handle with Care, I will again say if you’ve read a book by Jodi Picoult, you’ve read this one too. The story is told in chapters of alternating voices of the main characters. There of course the child with the problem. In this case Jacob an 18 year old boy with Asperberger’s. There’s the put upon sibling who equally loves and hates his brother, in this case Jacob’s brother whose name is escaping me at the moment. There’s the hardworking mother who struggles to keep her family together, and of course the lawyer with his own issues who is hired to deal with whatever problem is the main plot point of the novel. In House Rules the lawyer comes in to play when Jacob’s social skills tutor turns up dead. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult book in the past you will recognize this formula. You’ll also not be surprised that the end contains a twist that I saw coming about 30 pages in to the book. If you enjoy Picoult’s other books and are not tired of reading the same thing over and over again, House Rules will please you. If not then don’t bother. I give it 5 out of 10.