Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Beginnings: Dark Places

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."

It's hard to blame Libby for her anger and resentment, given that her entire family has been brutally murdered with the exception of her brother who was convicted of the crime.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: I Love You More

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

I Love You More: A Novel by Jennifer Murphy

Synopsis from Goodreads:


Picasso Lane is twelve years old when her father, Oliver, is murdered at their summer beach house. Her mother, Diana, is the primary suspect—until the police discover his second wife, and then his third. The women say they have never met—but Picasso knows otherwise.

Picasso remembers the morning beautiful Jewels showed up at their house, carrying the same purse as her mother, and a family portrait featuring her father with two strange boys. Picasso remembers lifting the phone, listening to late night calls with Bert, a woman heavily pregnant with Oliver's fourth child. As the police circle and a detective named Kyle Kennedy becomes a regular fixture in their home, Picasso tries to make sense of her father's death, the depth of his deceit, and the secrets that bind these three women.

Cunningly paced and plotted, I Love You More is a riveting novel of misplaced loyalty, jealousy, and revenge.

Publishing June 17, 2014 by Doubleday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

I have long heard of Josephine Tey as one of the Grand Masters of the mystery genre, and this book as perhaps her masterpiece, so when I ran across it cheap at a used book sale, it was mine. And when I wanted a short, distracting book, it fit the bill.

Inspector Grant is laid up in a hospital bed with a broken leg. He's quite bitter and grumpy (I do not know if he's normally bitter and grumpy or if that's specifically because of his situation, not having read other books in the series) and he's way beyond bored with staring at the ceiling and attempting to verbally joust with the various nurses, all of whom he hates for various reasons. One day his friend Marta brings him a stack of pictures she's gotten from the library, after she reasons that faces are his expertise and what he finds most fascinating in the world, given his profession as a police detective. She hopes one will inspire him to perhaps investigate into the life of the pictured and take his mind off his situation. Mixed in to the pictures by accident is one that captures him right away: Richard III. Known as a an evil hunchback who stole the throne from his brother and later murdered his two young nephews who'd been imprisoned in London Tower for years, he's one of the most infamous people in British history. But the face just didn't match up to the reputation.

He starts off by reading an old school history book one of the nurses has, and Marta sends him a young history student to find research for him. He and the student uncover a discrepancy or two and then three, until the whole historical account begins to crumble. Who really killed the Little Princes? Why does everyone believe these lies about Richard? Who started them and why?

One thing that was interesting about this book is that it entirely takes place in one room, in Grant's hospital room. At first I thought this might turn out to be like Rear Window with a detective trapped and immobile in a room, but it didn't turn out to be a plot point. Many readers have trouble with the wooden and interchangeable dialogue between Grant and the student, but it didn't bother me. The characters weren't what was important here--the mystery is. So when I realized at times that I didn't know who was speaking, I also realized it didn't matter. I could just go on and find out about the history and the mystery behind Richard III and not worry about who said what in the unveiling of the mystery itself. It's almost sacrilege that I would say that it doesn't matter that I couldn't tell two characters' voices apart but that's a great thing about plot-driven books. It would be a deal-breaker in a character-driven novel, but it's just not really relevant here. Just getting those facts out is important.

I found the actual history and mystery super-interesting. I really hope it's true. I wish there had been an author note or something telling me if the research Grant uncovered is accurate or if any of it is fictional. I'm going to choose to believe it until told otherwise. It's not a cozy per se, but since they're investigating a mystery more than a century old, there's no danger, no blood involved. This book was a fun little mystery perfect for any history buff.

I bought this book used from the Friends of the Library book sale.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Daughter of Time

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey p. 31

"If that man were her patient what would be her verdict? 'Liver,' she said crisply, and bore away the tray in heel-trapping protest, all starch and blond curls."

The man in question in a picture was Richard III, and his picture intrigued Grant while stuck in the hospital recuperating. He figured he'd ask the nurse her opinion.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I Wrote a Book!: The Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing by Carin Siegfried

I wrote a book! And I partly have my wonderful book blogger friends to thank for it.

The idea all started back eleven years ago when I still worked in New York at St. Martin's Press. I was on the board of the Young to Publishing Group, which was a division of the Recruit and Retain Committee of the AAP. As a part of the "recruit" angle, when I was visiting friends in my college town, I decided to contact my alma mater, Davidson College, and see if I could talk to English majors who might be interested in following me into publishing. Back when I'd been an undergraduate I'd found next to no info on the field, aside from that it was hard to get into, and so I'd stalled a few years before I finally pursued it. I did give a talk and it was a success. The next year I moved back here to Charlotte and as I was only thirty miles from my college, my talk became an annual thing. I also volunteered to be listed as a mentor on the career center's website, and I critiqued resumes for students. After I arranged for a group of students to visit the offices of Baker & Taylor and meet with four executives and find out how they got started in their careers, I decided I really could and should do more. This field is complicated and I can't possibly tell these hopeful young adults all about it in just a hour.

I began writing posts here on my Caroline Bookbinder blog about the different jobs in book publishing, and a few more random posts as they occurred to me. A few years later I was working for myself, and business for an independent editor fluctuates and I needed something to do during the slow periods, so it occurred to me to pull these blog posts and my talk together into a book.

I had no idea how much harder that would be than it sounded! Because the posts were all individual, there were parts that repeated from one to another. There were references to publishers that no longer existed and dead links. I noticed a couple of whole necessary subjects I had completely skipped over, like cover letters and informational interviews. Some of the descriptions were very short and cursory and needed more research and expansion. But finally, it is done! It has been edited, copyedited, proofread, and designed. And it explains everything about book publishing from soup to nuts, in a fun and casual voice that college students and young adults will relate to, speaking specifically to their experiences and skills.

Keep your eye on this space or on the book page on my website, as links for where you can buy it will go up as soon as it's available (roughly mid-June). It is already on Goodreads so you can add it to your To Read shelf.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson (audio)
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller
Getting the Love You Want : A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Up next:
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Daughter of Time

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

"Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling. Stared at it with loathing."

Inspector Grant is bedridden at a hospital with a badly broken leg, which is why he stares at the ceiling incessantly and angrily. His trapped position gives this a feeling similar to Rear Window although it doesn't play out the same way.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Map Thief

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Maps have long exerted a special fascination on viewers—both as beautiful works of art and as practical tools to navigate the world. But to those who collect them, the map trade can be a cutthroat business, inhabited by quirky and sometimes disreputable characters in search of a finite number of extremely rare objects.

Once considered a respectable antiquarian map dealer, E. Forbes Smiley spent years doubling as a map thief —until he was finally arrested slipping maps out of books in the Yale University library. The Map Thief delves into the untold history of this fascinating high-stakes criminal and the inside story of the industry that consumed him.

Acclaimed reporter Michael Blanding has interviewed all the key players in this stranger-than-fiction story, and shares the fascinating histories of maps that charted the New World, and how they went from being practical instruments to quirky heirlooms to highly coveted objects. Though pieces of the map theft story have been written before, Blanding is the first reporter to explore the story in full—and had the rare privilege of having access to Smiley himself after he’d gone silent in the wake of his crimes. Moreover, although Smiley swears he has admitted to all of the maps he stole, libraries claim he stole hundreds more—and offer intriguing clues to prove it. Now, through a series of exclusive interviews with Smiley and other key individuals, Blanding teases out an astonishing tale of destruction and redemption.

The Map Thief interweaves Smiley’s escapades with the stories of the explorers and mapmakers he knew better than anyone. Tracking a series of thefts as brazen as the art heists in Provenance and a subculture as obsessive as the oenophiles in The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Blanding has pieced together an unforgettable story of high-stakes crime.

Publishing May 29, 2014 by Gotham.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

I really enjoyed listening to Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and my husband loved his book In Defense of Food so this seemed like a no-brainer when we went on a long trip last year. However, we don't listen to audio books in the same way. He gets easily bored and wants to skip ahead, whereas I want to listen to the whole thing, even if some parts do seem more tedious on audio. You can skim in print but it's hard to do that on audio. You don't have any idea if you've skipped a very interesting bit or when things start to pick back up. Where you start listening again is just random. We do better listening together to podcasts it turns out, and we listen to audiobooks separately now.

I will agree with my husband that the section on barbecuing went on long. Pollan here divides the book into four parts (like in Omnivore): cooking with fire, water, air, and earth. In most of the sections he talks about a multitude of options such as in the earth section (which is fermentation), he talks about cheese, kimchee, sauerkraut, and beer. But in the fire section, it was really just barbecue. And while the story about him having a pet pig briefly as a child in Manhattan was very entertaining, in my opinion barbecue just isn't enough to support a quarter of a book on its own. But I really enjoyed the other three sections. Water was mostly making different kinds of stews and other one-pot meals, and air was mostly focused on bread, but there was a lot more variety in both of those techniques. You can make a dozen kinds of bread and a couple hundred meals in a pot, but aside from pork versus beef, there's not a lot of difference in grilling meat (not counting sauces.)

But as usual Pollan is interesting and both gets into the cooking technique and the science behind it but in an accessible way. He tries everything himself and is very straightforward about his own failures and what he found particularly difficult. For this non-cook, it was an entertaining book. I do hope my cooking husband got a few tips along the way.

I bought this audiobook from Audible.

Teaser Tuesdays: Cooked

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

“A French poet famously referred to the aroma of certain cheeses as the ‘pieds de Dieu’—the feet of god. Just to be clear: foot odor of a particularly exalted quality, but still—foot odor.”

I am listening to this on audio, so I don't know the page number of the quote. I like Pollan a lot because you don't just learn a lot about food, but he's also pretty amusing, which makes the learning go down easier. As does Drunken Goat cheese and a nice Shiraz.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Mennonite Meets Mr. Right: A Memoir of Faith, Hope, and Love by Rhoda Janzen
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson (audio)
Getting the Love You Want : A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Up next:
A Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

I loved Ruth Reichl's first memoir, Tender at the Bone. I thought Comfort me With Apples was a good effort but was trying too hard to capitalize on the success of Tender at the Bone, but all the best material from her early life had already been used. So I wasn't sure what to expect from Garlic and Sapphires but I was pleasantly pleased. The first two memoirs were in a very different vein from this one, so it was easy to not compare them (also I read the first two more than ten years ago which also made it easy to consider this book on its own merits.) And I enjoyed it thoroughly.

This isn't as much of a food memoir. I mean, it is. You'll certainly get sumptuous descriptions of stunning meals, but it is not as much about Ruth's relationship with food. It's about her and her husband and her son. And it's about her and her job. And her job was tough. At the start of the book, she reluctantly takes the job of food critic for The New York Times. It sounds great, but there's a big problem. If the restaurant recognizes her, she's going to get excellent but very different service and food than a typical diner. Readers might be terribly disappointed to visit a restaurant which has gotten amazing reviews only to discover they don't get the same quality or treatment as a famous reviewer does. Therefore, Ruth decides to try to dine at all these restaurants in disguise. An old friend of her mother's who works in the theater helps her out at first, and she eventually finds a wig shop that she loves and she creates elaborate backstories for these different women, who range from a rich divorcee who likes to decorate, to a poor, nearly invisible spinster. She finds herself truly embodying these characters and unable to act like herself while in costume. Some characters bring out the best in Ruth, and some bring out the worst. She is shaken when she briefly imitates her mother, and ultimately decides she just can't do it anymore as it takes too much out of her. It's time to move on.

The descriptions of the food are of course mouth-watering and sometimes mind-blowing. The difference in service she receives borders on shocking--once while in costume she has to get up and get her own wine menu, which is taken away from her before she is done with it; and another time when she is recognized she is immediately brought to the best table when she has arrived shockingly early for her reservation and yet the King of Spain is made to wait in the bar (seriously!) It's interesting to hear about how things work at the Times, and yet it's also strange since she doesn't seem to keep anything like normal work hours, nor do most in her department.

If you want the inside scoop on how food reviewing works, or how restaurants can impress and disappoint, this was a fun book. Perfect for armchair travel to New York, and be careful about reading it while you are hungry as you will be tempted to eat more and more, although all the food will be disappointing since it isn't like anything described here.

I bought this book used at The Book Rack.

Book Beginnings: Cooked

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
"At a certain point in the late middle of my life I made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook."

I don't cook much at all, but my husband does and we both love Michael Pollan's books. I don't think "Cook" is going to be the answer to any questions in my life, but I can appreciate that it is for others.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe

Boy did I get this book at just the right time! I was worrying about getting into a reading funk, I was stressed and needed a break from much heavier fare for book clubs, and I wanted to read something just fun and funny. Then this caught my eye, which had only arrived about a week earlier. It's a memoir (love!) set in the 1980s (love!) with a 5-page love letter at the beginning from Nick Hornby about how awesome the book is (love!). How could it go wrong? And it didn't.

Nina moves to London in 1980 as an 18-year-old to become a nanny for MK's two sons. MK is the editor for the London Review of Books. Her ex-husband is a famous director. The across-the-street neighbor who is always mooching dinners off of them is a famous novelist. Not that any of this is name-dropped because young Nina doesn't really know who these people are in the literary world and when discussing how bad the dinner was that she made, it really doesn't matter how famous a novelist the dinner critic might be, it's still annoying. The kids are hilarious, Sam and Will. Sam has some health issues but they're not really a big concern in everyday life.

The entire book is a series of letters written to Nina's sister (and no, you don't get the responses. It's funny sometimes because there will be a line addressing something in the sister's letter, and it even occasionally sounds juicy, but you never get more than the tease. But it's fine because it's not the story of sisters, it's the story of Nina and this family.) Eventually Nina quits nannying and starts university, however a series of subsequent nannies just don't work out and she often finds herself back at MK's, sometimes just for dinner and to hang out, and other times to cover for someone and help out. Frequently the scenes are written like a play dialogue, and they are so funny I was reading them out loud as well as laughing out loud at them. The kids' language and behavior is obviously very true-to-life as that is how kids that age act. Nina herself is funny as she handles emergencies without getting upset, but also doesn't get upset in situation she should, and they all over-analyze things that often don't stand up to scrutiny, particularly Nina's bad cooking. The timeliness also was funny at times, such as when they were trying out this new board game called Trivial Pursuit.

Love, Nina was a wonderful story of a very young adult starting to find her way in the world. It's an honest look at her relationship with a loving family and a funny take on the trial and tribulations of a 20-something in 1980s London. I loved it and laughed throughout, but it isn't a trivial book. It's a book about everyday life, and the joy that simple daily living can bring.

I received this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: For Once in My Life

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

For Once in My Life by Marianne Kavanagh

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Everyone has a soul mate... but what if you never find each other?

Meet Tess. A vintage clothes–obsessive, she’s trapped in a frighteningly grown-up customer relations job she loathes. Still, she’s been dating the gorgeous accountant Dominic since university, and has a perfectly lovely flat, which she shares with her best friend, Kirsty. But if her life is so perfect, why does she tear up whenever anyone mentions her future?

Meet George. He’s a brilliant jazz musician who spends almost as much time breaking up fights between his bickering band mates as he does worrying about his ailing father and living up to his stockbroker girlfriend’s very high expectations. For a guy who has always believed in romance, the grim practicalities of twenty-something life have come as something of a shock. Seemingly always on the verge of a big break, he’s looking for something more...something special.

They just might be two halves of one perfect whole. Now, if only they could manage to cross paths...

Follow Tess and George through a decade of bad dates, chaotic dinner parties, magical birthdays, dead-end jobs, romantic misalliances, and lots of starting over. For Once in My Life is a charming and intelligent modern comedy of manners, friendship, and missed connections.

Publishing June 17, 2014 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was nervous about reading this book because I normally hate magical realism. But I'm glad it was picked for my book club because I liked this book.

Prospero and Alexander (not their real names) are magicians and competitors in Victorian London. Prospero actually performs as a magician which is interesting because he is using actual real magic, but has to make it appear to be illusions that could happen without real magic. They get into a verbal sparring match and end up challenging each other to a duel of sorts (and not their first one). Prospero's young daughter has recently shown up on his doorstep and already shows signs of being able to do magic. He will pit her against any student of Alexander's finding to discover which is the better magician. The children don't know about the rules of the competition, particularly they don't know about the way it will end. But once they are about twenty, the circus that is the realm of the competition is created. Celia, Prospero's daughter, travels with the circus as it's Illusionist. Marco, Alexander's student, stays in London working for the creator of the circus.

I don't want to give away any more about the denouement or how the story circles around itself and weaves itself into a tight web. There was some jumping around from one time frame to another which was confusing but in the end it turned out it wasn't vital to know which year those scenes occurred in--the two storylines eventually met up. And I figured out why the magic didn't bother me this time: magic when you're baking is so out of left field, it makes me roll my eyes. But magic at a circus is appropriate. It works within its context in a way that magical realism never has for me before. This wasn't even remotely pitched as "everyday, ordinary life" or anything like that. There was a film of magic and mystery covering every thing and person related to the circus in any way. You definitely had to suspend disbelief, but in a way that I really enjoyed, and didn't find exasperating. The book was a lovely change of pace, a very different kind of story that completely took me to another place and time.

I bought this book at a sale at my local Scholastic Book Fair warehouse.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Night Circus

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern p. 119

"Opening day, or opening night, rather, is spectacular. Every last detail is planned, and a massive crowd gathers outside the gates long before sundown."

Can't say I blame them. After hearing about this circus, I'd wait in line for hours to go myself.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson
The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller
Getting the Love You Want : A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Books I am giving up on:
And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
I mused about whether or not to give up on this book last week and even though I certainly wasn't hating it, someone pointed out how sad it was to read a lame book for another 1000 pages and also think of all the good and fun books I could read during that time instead. So I'm considering it just tabled. It's possible I will pick it up again, down the road.

Up next:
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
The Crofter and the Laird: Life on an Hebridean Island by John McPhee
Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Night Circus

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

"The circus arrives without warning."

And sadly, it leaves the same way. No one knows how long it will stay in town, nor where it will turn up next. If you want to visit the Night Circus, you've pretty much just got to hope.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: We Were Liars

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Synopsis from Goodreads:


A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Publishing May 13, 2014 by Delacorte Press.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

I grew up in Nashville, TN, about 3 hours away from Oak Ridge. When I grew up everyone already knew what Oak Ridge was and how it had helped to develop the Atomic Bomb and that, to this day, they had an absurdly high percentage of Ph.D.'s in their town. Even though it was a rather small city, it was disproportionately represented at any academic event, like Governor's School and Model UN and the statewide math tests at Vanderbilt. But I didn't really know much about it at all, so I was thrilled to pick up this book in preparation for attending Booktopia Asheville in the fall.

What I found particularly neat about the book was how Ms. Kiernan didn't just do a thorough and masterful job of researching the history, but she particularly looked for the role of women in the entire process, from the woman who co-developing the theory of splitting atoms to the woman who built the most effective Geiger counters to the many thousands of women who worked at Oak Ridge, doing everything from janitorial work to running the newspaper to separating the isotopes of uranium. She follows about 6-8 women from the time they first heard about jobs in Tennessee (or some didn't hear that and instead were hired and put on a train, without even knowing where they were going) to working their jobs to what happened after the bombs were dropped, when jobs and population in Oak Ridge understandably disappeared. These mostly young women did a terrific job (I especially liked the story about how they were running circles around the group of male Ph.D.s in California who had developed the method for enriching uranium. When that was pointed out, a head-to-head competition was arranged over a month. The women trounced the men.) All of them were there to support the troops as WWII, unlike any other war, affected pretty much every single family in the United States. Many had brothers or other loved ones overseas and they wanted to help end the war sooner and bring them home.

Ms. Kiernan really brings the era to life, talking about how novel it was for one woman to have a telephone in her house (she hid it under a box because so many people asked to use it when they saw it), taking us through the dating scene (many of these women ended up their time in Oak Ridge married), and showing us the propaganda of the day (I love the billboard advising carpooling to save gas that says "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler!"). You might think the book would be technical and dry, but since the women who were doing the enriching didn't even know what they were doing, let alone how, the details of the technical process are not dwelled upon. Instead it was about the day to day life, the secrecy, and the strong bonds these women formed, during their vital help for the war effort.

A fascinating and unique story of WWII, I loved reading it. I wish there were a few more pictures (although pictures weren't allowed then so it's understandable why there aren't many), but it was a great book and any WWII buff should certainly know about this new angle of the war.

I bought this book at Flyleaf Books, an independent bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Girls of Atomic City

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan p. 90

"Colleen always wondered why you weren't allowed to take the Oak Ridge Journal off the 'area.' There was never any real news in it."

Throughout the book, I was fascinated by the short excerpts from the Oak Ridge Journal. I admire the creativity of the woman who every week put out a newspaper with no news. I can't imagine how frustrating her job must have been.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Getting the Love You Want : A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix
And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer

Up next:
Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
Cost by Roxana Robinson
Fury: A Memoir by Koren Zailckas

Friday, May 2, 2014

Is Mediocrity a Crime?

I mentioned recently that I started reading a giant book on my cruise in March. It's called And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It's 1433 pages (mass market). It was recommended by a friend who admittedly has not read it herself but it's about a book club that's been in existence for 150 years (a novel but it's supposedly based on a real book club). Was a big bestseller in the 1980s and on the cover is compared to Gone With the Wind among other sagas. I thought it would be a home run. And yet, it's kind of boring. It's about everyday life in small-town Ohio in the 1870s (thus far--the book starts in 1868 and goes through 1932). But it's not boring enough to be tedious. It's just kind of... mediocre.

My husband suggested I stop reading it. I mean STOP stop as in put it down forever and walk away. But that seems unfair. I don't mind the book. In fact, when I'm reading it, I mildly enjoy it. I've read more than 1/4 of it. I've read plenty of books that I disliked more. Should I give up on this book just because it's bland and really, really long? Is that a crime? Why would I stop reading this book but not shorter books that I actively dislike? (I do often stop reading books I dislike unless they're for book club. But sometimes I've gotten so far in, I want to see it through, or I have hope that the ending will redeem the book, or I want to be able to rant about how awful the book is and that's better done from a position of having read it.)

After all, when I put it down for several weeks at a time and go back to it, I have no problem picking up where I left off. That seems like a good thing. I find myself occasionally thinking about it. And I would love to be able to say I've read a book this large (probably will be a record not to be broken.) But are those reasons to spend the massive amount of time it will take to finish it once and for all? I have 1000 pages left to go.

What say you, readers? To finish, or not to finish?

Book Beginnings: The Girls of Atomic City

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.


The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

"That morning, the excitement coursing throughout the complex known as the Castle was infectious." This is the day in August 1945 after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, when the residents of Oak Ridge (and the whole world) finally found out what they had been working so hard on for the last two years.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Avoiding a Book Slump

I've been dangerously close to a book clump or funk for the last six weeks and I am determined to avoid it. The problem all began with a cruise, as unlikely as that might seem. The cruise was last-minute and short-notice. I was in the middle of two hardcover books, even though I don't normally do that. I crammed and finished one of them but not the other. I opted not to bring a heavy hardcover book I figured I'd finish in a couple of days. Instead I brought a giant (1400+ pages) mass market paperback and I also checked out a book from the ship's library. I read 350 pages of the giant book (finished the library book). When I returned, due to scheduling that I hadn't noticed before leaving, I only had four days before my book club. I couldn't continue with either the pre-cruise book or the giant book and instead had to drop them for this book club book (which I had suggested and had wanted to read for a long time.) I didn't finish it by book club night which is a rarity for me. But I was 2/3 of the way through and would have finished it in just another couple of nights. Except... I had four days before my SECOND book club. I had to start reading that book right away again! And again, I didn't finish it! This book, although I had heard good things and looked forward to it, was very slow going.

At the end of all this mess, I had FOUR half-read books (five if you count the audio book I'd been part-way through for many months but finally determined to finish.) I didn't know what to do. This was unprecedented.

I went back to the first book club book as I had the least left of that one. Then I finished the pre-cruise book. Like tackling credit-card debt, I went with the shortest remaining page counts first. Finally I finished the second book club book. Then I read 50 more pages of the giant book and put it aside (for now.) I felt exhausted, all the books had felt like horrible school assignments I was turning in late for partial credit, and now it was book club time again! Seriously?! How often does book club come up? I bit the bullet and read that one (finished before the meeting.)

But I found I have been going to bed later and later, staying up to watch reruns of How I Met Your Mother instead of reading. I haven't felt the excitement or fun of reading in a while. I wasn't eager to get back to any books or to start any new ones. I knew I was in serious danger of a reading slump and my last one was awful. So I went to my go-to cure: indulge your favorites. I adore memoirs, and I went to a funny one I'd just gotten with a rave from Nick Hornby, and it was good. Good enough that I was even reading bits aloud to my husband. But not good enough that I wanted to stay up late reading or pick it up with breakfast or lunch or anything. That weekend, I went for trick #2: read something short so you'll feel successful. Unfortunately due to going to bed late, I still managed to drag a 200 pages book out over many more days than it should have taken me but it was an intriguing mystery and I liked it. I then also powered through and finished the audiobook so I'd have another success. But I still wasn't out of the woods. Because I was looking at... another book club book. (No, I am not in two book clubs by choice. One is more of an obligation.)

This book club selection has been widely praised, has won a dozen of awards, I've seen 5-star reviews on Goodreads from fellow book clubbers, and yet I don't want to read it. Granted, that's part of the point of book club--to get me to read outside of my comfort zone and I've read some terrific books because of it. But instead right now, book club is dragging me down. Reading is feeling very forced and I'm not enjoying it. So I didn't even check to see if my co-leader would be there next week, I just decided: I'm not reading it. I felt a huge sense of relief. Then I discovered that due to a scheduling conflict, I can't attend my other May book club either (even though I was greatly looking forward to the book, but now I can read it on my own schedule.) Big sigh! (And no, I've neither given up on nor made additional progress on the giant book. It's tabled for a better day.)

So I spent a half an hour last night with my bookshelves, and I have two books I think are winners. I started with another memoir, by an author who I've read twice previously, and which is fairly lightweight. I plan to follow that with a thriller this weekend by another known quantity (read another book by the author). And I'm thrilled to say that last night I stayed up reading almost an hour past my bedtime! No guarantee yet, but I may have licked this reading slump before it dug in.