book recommendations

Books # 50

I’ve definitely got some good books for you to add to your list! There were a bunch that came all at once at the library and I tried to read as many as I could. So many good ones!

#1 – The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Wow was this book outstanding! I could not put it down and the twist at the end was one I did not see coming. The book and the ending was very satisfying.

Kim is a 28 year old photographer and professor at a college in Australia. Her life is a little lonely right now. Single, her mom recently died of cancer, she has her half sister but she feels alone and a little lost. One day a stranger from America shows up to her college campus during her lunch break and drops some startling allegations on her: she might really be Sammy Went, who was kidnapped in Kentucky when she was 2 years old.

Kim is reeling and doesn’t know what to believe, and definitely doesn’t want to believe her beloved dead mother was a kidnapper. The story unfolds, she ends up going to Kentucky to figure out what happened and the story is startling, riveting and kind of crazy.

The book is brilliantly paced, written well and creepy. Highly recommend!

#2 The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

I’ve had this book for years and finally read it. It’s breathtakingly awful but so important to read. During WWI, these girls, 15-25 years old, were destroyed. They got what they thought was a GREAT job with a high wage. Painting the dials on clocks with radium paint…guaranteed safe…

” The U.S. Radium Corporation had insisted that its product was safe. After Marie Curie and her husband discovered radium in 1898, it had been heralded as the new cure-all and was added to toothpaste, water, food, and cosmetics—with little regulation; sometimes it was enough just to say your product contained radium, which was costly to obtain.”

“Each dial-painter had her own supply. She mixed her own paint, dabbing a little radium powder into a small white crucible and adding a dash of water and a gum arabic adhesive: a combination that created a greenish-white luminous paint, which went under the name “Undark.” The fine yellow powder contained only a minuscule amount of radium; it was mixed with zinc sulfide, with which the radium reacted to give a brilliant glow. The effect was breathtaking.”

But it wasn’t safe, despite what the company was telling everyone.

” ‘We put the brushes in our mouths,’ Katherine said, quite simply. It was a technique called lip-pointing, inherited from the first girls who had worked in the industry, who came from china-painting factories.

” ‘When I would go home at night, my clothing would shine in the dark.’ She added, ‘You could see where I was—my hair, my face.’ “

They were called the “ghost girls” because they glowed. Chilly. But soon, the girls started having issues.

“… one woman got sores on her mouth after just a month of working there.”

Mollie Maggia was one of the first victims who ended up dying from radium poisoning. But it was a slow, very painful death.

“Mollie had more teeth out, as Knef tried to stop the infection in its tracks by removing the source of her pain—but none of the extractions ever healed. Instead, ever-more agonizing ulcers sprouted in the holes left behind, hurting her even more than the teeth had. Mollie struggled on, continuing to work at the studio, even though using her mouth on the brush was extremely uncomfortable..Sometimes, Knef didn’t even have to pull her teeth anymore; they fell out on their own. Nothing he did arrested the disintegration in the slightest degree.”

The descriptions in the book of the girls suffering was absolutely horrific. It is not something to take lightly–and yet, for years, everyone involved from the companies that hired them to the doctors, lawyers and work safety committees, claimed their issues weren’t from their jobs. Mollie Maggia’s doctor said she died of syphilis. (A later postmortem autopsy showed she had indeed died of radium poisoning–her coffin and corpse GLOWED when it was dug up!)

(Read more here: http://theradiumgirls.com/the-girls/4593781028 )

“Despite the dim fall day, the coffin seemed to glow with an unnatural light; there were “unmistakable signs of radium—the inside of the coffin was aglow with the soft luminescence of radium compounds.” “

The surviving girls suffering from radium poisoning, and the families of the victims who had died, eventually went to court.

“…a new law had come in only that January that made industrial diseases compensable. But—and it was a big but—only nine diseases were on the permitted list, and there was a five-month statute of limitations, meaning any legal claim had to be filed within five months of the point of injury.”

This was a ground breaking event and helped changed the laws and rules around work safety, especially for women.

#3 Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Jules is in her mid-twenties and her life is falling apart. She finds her boyfriend cheating on her on the same day she gets laid off of her job. She’s broke, has nowhere to go and no resources. She sees an ad for a apartment sitter in one of the most mysterious, notorious and rich buildings in New York. For three months she can make $12k for just being an apartment sitter. She feels like this is the miracle she needs. But once she moves in, she realizes things aren’t what they seem.

This book had a lot of mixed reviews. A lot of people felt like the ending was unbelievable and I had a moment where two of the theories made me think “are you kidding me? That is so lame” but then the real ending was revealed and I felt like it was satisfying. Unrealistic? Yes, but satisfying. I enjoyed the book. The author did a good job building suspense. I love books about creepy houses. So it worked for me.

#4 Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

I have mixed feelings about this book, mostly because it made me question my opinion about Columbus.

I wanted to read about Columbus after reading the book about Queen Isabella. The book is good, drags a little toward the last 25%, but overall very fascinating and informative. Instead of a biography covering Columbus’s life, it focuses on his four voyages to the New World.

My history was a little foggy. Basically, Columbus “discovered” Cuba, Jamaica, Dominic Republic and probably Puerto Rico…not “America”. I learned a lot from this book. Columbus has been vilified for a long time. He definitely did a lot of questionable things. I think most of his issues were greed and obsession with finding gold in the new world. And he was also focused on converting the Indians to Christianity.

He did kidnap a lot of Indians as slaves (horrific) to take back to Spain. A lot of the genocide/rape etc of the Indian people came from his men. It’s well documented that Columbus was not the greatest leader and he dealt with a lot of mutinies from his men. Not surprising considering most of the men on his fleets were criminals who were offered clemency if they helped sail with Columbus. So not the top notch people you’d want…

“Columbus suddenly divined: “that he might leave the people there” to begin a colony, and to become the catalyst for more voyages to China.”

And these men he left behind did terrible things. But Queen Isabella was very clear that she wanted no one to do any harm to the native people.

“…if members of the fleet mistreated the Indians “in any manner whatsoever,” Columbus was ordered to “punish them severely.” The order, unequivocal in writing, proved anything but in action.”

I found this to be very noble. And unfortunately, it wasn’t necessarily obeyed completely.

“Meanwhile, his management of the fledgling Spanish empire, and his quest for gold, devolved into cruel mistreatment of the Indians. The master of navigation became the victim on land of his lack of administrative ability.”

The book was fascinating about discovering the Caribbean Islands and the people that lived there. There were Indians that became extinct because of Columbus and his men. He also encountered Carib Indians who were apparently cannibals.

It’s so fascinating how things changed.

“When Europeans first touched the shores of the Americas,” he wrote, “Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice, and turnips had not traveled west across the Atlantic, and New World crops such as maize, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc had not traveled east to Europe…In the Americas, there were no horses, cattle, sheep or goats.” They were all “animals of Old World origin.the New World had no domesticated animals, no chickens, and no cattle until …”

Columbus’s life is in part a tragedy. He had to deal with a lot of horrible people trying to ruin him, double cross him, steal from him, ruin his name in Spain, etc. I’m in no way saying that Columbus was innocent, but I think he did try, at first, to be kind to the Indians and learn about their “strange ways.”

“Hindered by the lack of a common language or reliable interpreters, Columbus took the king’s signs and utterances to mean that the “whole island was mine to command.” And out of this communication gap was born the conviction, at least in Columbus’s mind, that he was acquiring an empire of his own.”

So like a lot of things in history and life, it isn’t black and white. There’s some gray area. But don’t think I am painting a rosy picture of Columbus.

#5 Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek

This was a fascinating memoir about Dr. Judy Melinek who was a surgeon struggling with the work-life balance and decided to become a medical examiner in New York City.

“We group all deaths into six categories: homicide, suicide, accident, natural disease, therapeutic complication, and undetermined.”

She takes you through some of her training, the people she worked with and the cases that defined her career and helped her grown as a medical examiner.

“Once I became an eyewitness to death, I found that nearly every unexpected fatality I investigated was either the result of something dangerously mundane, or of something predictably hazardous.”

The last 25% of the book was also about her experience being an ME during 9-11. Having recently read a book about the 9-11 attacks, this was an interesting perspective on the recovery and identification process in the aftermath of the tragedy.

I’ve always been interested in this type of science. I used to love the CSI shows. This book definitely scratches that itch if you are interested in mysteries, science, CSI, etc. If you are squeamish, it may not be the book for you. There were definitely parts of the book that were too much for me and I skipped or skimmed the parts that were too gruesome to read about. But overall it wasn’t too gross. There was a pretty good balance of the science and memoir feel.

#6 Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This is the follow-up book to “Moloka’i”, which was excellent. This book follows Ruth, the daughter of Rachel (who spent most of her life in a leper colony on Moloka’i. Rachel was forced to give Ruth up at birth and she was sent to a home for a few years before being adopted by a Japanese couple in Hawaii.

The story is about Ruth’s life with her adopted family, how they moved to California to be farmers, and then World War 2 breaking out. The bulk of the story is about the Japanese Internment Camps, which are just absolutely heartbreaking and infuriating to read about. Families were given one week notice to pack up limited belongings and they were all sent to the camps, which were a step up from the concentration camps, but not by much. The conditions were horrible. These people lost EVERYTHING. When they were finally released and able to return “home” there was usually nothing left. They had to start completely over.

It was very eye-opening to read about. I knew a little bit about the internment camps but this was a lot of detail that really made it real.

The book is really good and more fast-paced than the first book.

Happy reading!

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Books #47

I like a lot of the books I’ve read lately. I discovered some new authors/series and got caught up on some favorite authors. Here are some of my favorites:

#1 The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

This was an interesting story. It turned out to be more of a courtroom drama but it was interesting and kept me reading. I liked it a lot and it was well written.

Chloe is a rich a famous New York magazine executive and feminist figurehead. She’s married to Adam, a lawyer. Except her past is a little more sketchy. Turns out, Adam was married to her sister Nicky before they got divorced and Chloe and Adam married. And Ethan is Chloe’s stepson, and also her nephew. But more comes to light when Adam is murdered and the trial brings out all the dirty secrets.

#2 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This was an excellent book! It was a heavy topic, but it wasn’t dry or bogged down with lots of dry facts and figures. The statistics were scattered around the book in an unobtrusive way and the way it was written was engrossing. The author wrote about several people and you got sucked into their stories and were interested in the outcomes.

“These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders.”

He followed several people in Milwaukee, WI, who were poor and struggling to keep a roof over their head. It was a mixture of races, ages and sexes. Some had families, some were single. One was a male nurse who had gotten addicted to opiates and due to drug abuse, lost his job, nursing license, and struggled to stay in his trailer.

“Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on…Fewer and fewer families can afford a roof over their head. This is among the most urgent and pressing issues facing America today…”

This book was definitely eye-opening. I had no idea how a lot of this stuff worked. I definitely had to face my own privilege reading this book and know that I never had to deal with the realities that a lot of Americans have to deal with. Deciding whether to feed their kids or pay their rent.

“It was a common strategy among cash-strapped renters. Because the rent took almost all of their paycheck, families sometimes had to initiate a necessary eviction that allowed them to save enough money to move to another place. One landlord’s loss was another’s gain.”

The book really does an excellent job describing such a broken system.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out… Men often avoided eviction by laying concrete, patching roofs, or painting rooms for landlords. But women almost never approached their landlord with a similar offer. Some women—already taxed by child care, welfare requirements, or work obligations—could not spare the time. But many others simply did not conceive of working off the rent as a possibility. When women did approach their landlords with such an offer, it sometimes involved trading sex for rent.”

One of the people he followed was a landlord, Sherrena. I found that really fascinating. Sometimes you got a glimpse of someone who had a heart and was really kind and actually cared…one single mother with two boys moved in to one of her units and she brought them a box of food when they first moved in. And yet…she ended up evicting them later because of police activity at that unit.

“Every month Sherrena collected roughly $20,000 in rent. Her monthly mortgage bills rounded out to $8,500. After paying the water bill, Sherrena—who owned three dozen inner-city units, all filled with tenants around or below the poverty line—figured she netted roughly $10,000 a month, more than what Arleen, Lamar, and many of her other tenants took home in a year.”

The other thing that was super frustrating was that a lot of the poor people were on SSI or SSD or welfare and given a certain amount of money each month. But they were never able to get ahead. If they had too much money in their bank account, they lost their services. It really doesn’t make people want to try and get out of poverty. Talk about a broken system! Thankfully Oregon doesn’t have that, they have a savings account program for people on benefits so that they can TRY and save and get out of poverty levels.

“She was allowed to have up to $2,000 in the bank, not $1,000 like she thought, but anything more than that could result in her losing benefits. Larraine saw this rule as a clear disincentive to save.”

“If Arleen and Vanetta didn’t have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets. They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer.”

I think this should be required reading in schools, honestly. It was so so good and so eye opening.

#3 The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Olivia Shaw is a food editor in San Francisco, in a dying engagement, struggling with the recent death of her mother and recovering from a car accident that has left her with chronic pain. The surprise news that she’s inherited a castle in England, is not what she’s expecting. It turns out she knew nothing about her mother’s past.

Olivia goes to England to settle things up and as the story unfolds, she realizes how much she didn’t know. She also realizes just how much she needed a “redo” for her life.

The book is surprisingly good for a romance. It’s not usually my type of book. It doesn’t feel like a “fluffy” romance book. It definitely deals with grief and healing. The topic of renovating the old estate was fascinating and the romance between the two main characters was very well written. I liked this story a lot!

#4 Passion on Park Avenue by Lauren Layne

This was a cute, fun little read. Naomi is a 30-something CEO of her own company and when her boyfriend dies and she finds out he was actually married, she decides it’s time to get her personal life in order.

There was a nice romance in the book that was well written (enemies into soul mates kind of a thing) and the book was funny and charming. I liked the characters!

#5 Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family by Catherine Newman

I absolutely LOVED this book. It was laugh out loud funny. I was cracking up the entire time I read the book and I could also relate to everything. It felt like she was writing my story. It was a great book about becoming a mother, being pregnant:

“This pregnant tiredness is so unearthly. I stagger into work and sit down at my computer, and it’s all I can do not to crawl under my desk immediately and go to sleep on the floor. I crave recumbency.”

… and the crazy time postpartum is:

“The postpartum period is like The Perfect Storm: all the wild forces of new-babyhood collide to make you ragingly, epically nuts. I know that I’ll look back on this period and understand the equation perfectly. I understand it even now: hormones + mewling subhuman + strange, sore body + moping older child – sleep=utter lunacy. I am an utter lunatic.”

…and how new babies change marriages:

‘ “Wow,” he’d say, “now that was a great night, right? Ben’s a great sleeper.” “Honey,” I’d say, “you had a great night. You’re a great sleeper. I nursed Ben every hour. I now have no choice but to leave you.” ‘

And then she wrote about having the second baby and what life was like with a toddler.

“…what I love about three-year-olds? They’re just so flexible. So come-what-may. Nothing needs to look a certain way or be done in a particular order. They’re always like, “Hey, Mom, however you want to do it. That’s just great with me.” ” LOL

I just couldn’t put the book down and I didn’t want it to end.

#6 A Dangerous Man (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #18) by Robert Crais

One of my favorite series! This was a great read in the series. I read it in one day and I couldn’t put the book down.

Isabel is a 20-something bank teller just living her life when she leaves work for lunch one day and is grabbed by two strange men. Pike is leaving the bank and sees the attempted kidnapping and intervenes. He saves Isabel but then finds himself embroiled in a mystery of who is trying to kidnap Isabel and why.

The outcome was very interesting! I liked the story and was happy to have beloved characters back. Definitely recommend.

#7 Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

Really strong start to a new series. Detective Gemma Monroe is 6 months pregnant and having relationship issues. She’s handed a new case that unravels the entire town.

Gemma is a strong lead character. I liked that she was vulnerable but not whiny or dependent on a man. The story isn’t too gruesome. There were plot points that were well done and believable. The mystery was well-written, good/believable dialogue and surprise ending. I liked the book and can’t wait to read the next one.

Happy Reading!

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