Friday, February 25, 2022

Review: A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines

A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 VaccinesA Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines by Gregory Zuckerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent and fascinating account of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is putting the development of the vaccines into historical context. Zuckerman starts with the precursor research that led to the development. The researchers and scientists that were able to make the breakthroughs that made the COVID vaccines so effective had worked for years, decades in many cases, on trying to develop vaccines and treatments for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases. Though most of those efforts were not successful at their stated aims, what was learned was essential. This is another important aspect of the story of the vaccine development: failure is not failure simpliciter. There is, of course, the adage of try, try again; but also that even in failure there is so much to learn. And what was learned helped to make these vaccines possible.

The first two thirds of the book is focused on pre-2019. Tracing the work of key scientists and the various business, such as Moderna and BioNtech (but several other as well), that played central roles in the development of the vaccines. Zuckerman does a good job of explaining the basics of the science without getting overly technical.

The last third of the book heats up with the race for the vaccine that starts almost immediately with the emergences of the virus in China. Though we know how the story ends, Zuckerman is still able to create the experience of suspense as the reader waits for the results of the clinical trials. He puts us, through the direct first-hand, contemporaneous reports of the main players, into the conference rooms and zoom rooms as these reports come in. You experience their uncertainty and anxiety followed by the elation and release when the successful numbers come in.

Zuckerman does a good job of portraying the main players: showing their ambition and focus, their pride in their work. He is able to show us why we should admire and honor these researchers without lionizing them or making them into other-worldly figures. These are human beings doing the great things that human beings can do.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 21, 2022

Review: Romeo's Way

Romeo's Way (Mike Romeo #2)Romeo's Way by James Scott Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this sequel to Romeo's Rules, we get a much tighter story. Romeo is still a mix of Spenser, Hammer, and Reacher: wise cracking, literate, hard hitting, and tempered anger. The first book got a bit convoluted at points, but the plotting here stays on track while remaining suspenseful. Bell introduces a few new characters, I hope we get to see Urban again! I would like more Ira for sure; he took a bit of a back seat in this story.

It's a fun and action packed thriller, with a bunch of literature and philosophy peppered through out. Perfect aperitif between longer novels.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 18, 2022

Review: The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Stone Sky completes the Broken Earth Trilogy. One of the most original fantasy series I’ve ever read. It’s a tragic story, but with much hope. It’s an angry world, but filled with love nonetheless. The characters are all rich and well-developed. The story-telling itself is so innovative and unique. Jemisin is able to tell multiple threads of the story, through time, in a way that creates suspense while also revealing more and more, slowly, about the world. Sometimes this can be confusing, but it works out as you make your way through the novel. It starts a little slow, but once it gets going, it’s hard to put down.

Though there are many themes explored here, about race, environmentalism, technology, family, etc., the novel never gets preachy or didactic. It’s telling a great story with interesting characters; and never wavers from that. Whatever else might be spied is just part of the story.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Review: Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation

Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo NationCanyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation by Michael Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title says, this is a story of a basketball season on the Navajo Nation. In particular it focuses on the Chinle High School team that is making a run at the Arizona state championships. It is beautifully told. Powell has a deep respect and love for the region and it comes through in his descriptions of the landscape and the people. The book follows the coach and several of the main players on the team. From here, there are many tangents into the biographies of these individuals, as well as historical accounts of the Navajo. It is part history, part memoir, part ethnography, part sports story. Powell explores, through this basketball team, what living on the reservation is like for many Navajo. He looks at how this affects, positively and negatively, the players on the basketball team. There is also a lot of what you would expect from a sports book: coaches giving life advice, comebacks, underdogs. But it mostly avoids cliche and tells us a good story of how the team grows and develops through the season--both as a team and individually.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Review: Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby

Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby (Spenser #49)Robert B. Parker's Bye Bye Baby by Ace Atkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed all the Atkins Spensers. In each of my reviews, though, I always note that Atkins is doing an imitation of Parker. He usually gets about 80% of the way there, but you know it is not Parker's Spenser. In this, Atkins' tenth and last Spenser, I'm sad to say this was even more the case. It's helped me, I think, identify how Atkins' Spenser was falling short. There were several points through out the novel where something was off. The language or word choice of a character, in particular Spenser and Hawk, that didn't fit, or the characters reactions to a situation that struck the wrong note.

Since the plot of this is reminiscent to Looking For Rachel Wallace, one of Parker's best, I went back and reread parts of it (and now rereading the whole novel). This only made things worse for Atkins. First, Parker's language and description is so crisp, saying so much and so beautifully with an amazing economy. Second, Spenser's interactions with Rachel and how Parker deals with the controversial elements is far superior to Atkins treatment of Spenser and Carolina. Atkins too easily slips into cultural tropes and cliches. This aspect of the book just wasn't that interesting.

Two other things jumped out to me. First, Parker always emphasized Spenser's code; his autonomous core and steadfast integrity. Atkins rarely seems to make use of this, with a few throwaway comments to remind us of this. But with Parker: it was core to every Spenser story. Second, Atkins over uses Spenser the wise-ass. Parker was far more judicious with how he employs Spenser's sarcasm and humor. This gave it much more of an impact.

The overall sweep of the book is still enjoyable; I still love being back in that world. Atkins is a good writer. But the books are also a pale comparison to Parker. This is, as I noted above, Atkins last. Reportedly, Mike Lupica is picking up the Spenser line. He's written several Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall novels, so he's not new to the Spenser-verse. But I haven't read Lupica's stories so I don't know if he can take on Spenser (Plus he's a New Yorker?).

View all my reviews