Harlots Sauce Radio Book Reviews March 2010

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Feeding Strays by Stefanie Freele

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Feeding StraysPaperback, 268 pages
Publisher: Lost Horse Press; First edition (September 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0980028959
Reviewed by Patricia V. Davis

If you read only one collection of short stories this year, Feeding Strays must be it. In fact, if you’re short on time, just the titles of some of the stories in this collection are worth its price ─ “Because Condoms Seem So Desperate, She Also Buys a Fern”; “All My Drownings”; “Priests and Balloons”.

The description on the back cover says it all: “A woman hides from her husband in a fish tank and another absently bakes sponges inside her tarts. Appliances drop from the sky, men grapple with chainsaws, women struggle with hormonal violence, and abandoned boys beg on doorsteps. Enter into the territory of broken people and the folks who love them. Sensitive and unruly, sincere and absurd, Stefanie Freele’s “Feeding Strays” is a collection of fifty short stories, both slipstream and modern, about children, family, relationships, and oysters.”

Harlots’ Sauce Radio gives this collection an impressive four pasta plates. For more information on the author, (the Healdsburg’s Literary Laureate, by the way) and for autographed copies of her book, visit: www.stefaniefreele.com

Feeding Strays is a finalist in ForeWord Reviews‘ 2009 Book of the Year Awards

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Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood

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Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Updated edition (May 5, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0307454355
Reviewed by Nigel Voight

The story behind Harwood’s debut crime action novel is just as faced-paced and dizzying as the book itself. Harwood podcasted chapters of this book on his website, and thus developed a huge fan base, before clinching a deal with the book publishers in New York. They must have been as asleep as the main character, Jack, leading a quiet, lawful existence ever since he’s finally broken free of ‘demon alcohol’s’ hold, which had wrecked his acting career. In Sausalito, California, and in need of money, Jack can’t resist the offer of an old friend to help entertain some visiting Czechs looking to score some blow. Not long after, Jack discovers said old friend lying face down in his apartment with a piece of his skull blown off. Okay, okay ─ though the plot may not seem all that original, the fast pace and the great prose is irresistible. Think Quentin Tarantino meets The Maltese Falcon. Three and a half pasta plates for the work, with an extra half plate added in for the clever marketing, gives Jack Wakes Up a not-too-shabby four pasta plates. As Jack would say, “So, what’s the who?” Seth Harwood, that’s who. He’s one new author to watch.

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The God Patent by Ransom Stephens

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Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Vox Novus; 1st edition (December 16, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0984260003
Reviewed by Jo O’Neill

I must meet Ransom Stephens, because I need to know if this author is as intriguing in person as he is on the page. The God Patent sounded like it would be the type of existentialist story I’d never read, let alone enjoy. But I found myself fascinated not only by the plot, but by the mind of a writer who could dream it all up.

A condensed version of the book description states that “sex, drugs, and quantum physics collide with artificial intelligence, faith and free will in this perspective-altering story. The main character, Ryan McNear, submits a patent for the soul disguised as a software algorithm, concealed in engineering jargon, and his best friend rewrites Genesis and calls it a “power generator.” A few years later, what he thought was a joke is generating stacks of money amid claims that it will provide a source of limitless energy, and prove the existence of God. Ryan stakes a legal claim to the patent, but soon discovers a sinister undercurrent in the venture. Racing against time and aided by a motley group of assistants, Ryan gets caught in a battle between hard science and fundamentalist religion that threatens his sanity, his freedom and his son.

This is a complicated plot which includes a number of major characters, and you’d think it would be impossible for a debut author to pull it all off. But Stephens manages it, and it’s refreshing to read a novel with some depth of narrative. Although, as an editor, I might have suggested trimming some of the actual physics descriptions, but then again, I have to take into consideration that I am not the main audience for this book, a book that grabbed my attention nonetheless. Put it this way ─ a gal who usually reads memoir and romance, found a new genre for myself in The God Patent. Stephens reminds me of that high school science teacher who all the high school girls would sigh over and call “totally sexy.” And because we thought he was, we paid attention to what he had to say and not only learned something, but remembered it for life. The God Patent will stick with me for a long time.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1400052172
Reviewed by guest reviewer, Tina Vierra of Book Passage

This is, without a doubt, one of the most compelling books I have ever read. It’s not just that it’s well-written, but that the subject matter is so unbelievable and staggering, and has such implications from our medical past, and for the future of medicine.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman living in rural Virginia in the 1940s and 50s. A wife and mother of five, she died of cervical at age of 31, in the black ward of Johns Hopkins medical center. A few months before she died, her doctor retrieved a tissue sample from her cervix and gave it to one of his assistants (something they did routinely at this teaching and research center) to place the cells into a culture, to see if they would grow and replicate. Such cells usually died in a matter of hours, but if they could be kept alive, they would be very useful in the new field of virology.

Henrietta’s cells lived, and, as was the practice then, they named this new cell line ‘HeLa’, using first letters from both of her names. HeLa cells were so robust and replicated so fast, that their use has revolutionized medicine. From the moment the doctors at Johns Hopkins started using them, giving them out to other researchers to use, they began to spread exponentially, and the infant arm of research known as ‘virology’—the use of human cells to study medical conditions, treatments, cures, and now genetics ─ grew with them. HeLa cells are now so prevalent and common in medicine that nearly every researcher in the world has touched them. They’ve even gone up into space. They’ve been bought and sold, replicated and shipped worldwide.

And for over 40 years, Henrietta Lack’s family never knew about this. But science writer, Rebecca Skloot, heard snippets of information that got her interested in the HeLa cells, realized the significance of their story, and spent more than ten years researching and composing this book. She’s done a brilliant job weaving Henrietta’s story, those of her children, and the progress of science through the HeLa cells into a moving, riveting, personal narrative. Her access to and eventual closeness with Henrietta’s children was a dangerous course for a journalist needing objectivity to tell this story, but she handled it well. I may even forgive her for making me cry. I can’t get this story out of my mind; in fact, I will probably be thinking about it and discussing it for the rest of my life. It’s that important.

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Last 5 posts by Harlots Sauce Radio Book Reviewers