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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 #44

Ok, I have some good ones to recommend! A few deep, heavy books and a few light reading. A good mix, I’d say. 🙂

  1. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

Jessica is a Chinese American who lived in Australia and Beijing and now lived in London with her British husband. A self-proclaimed introvert/borderline recluse, she found that she was feeling lonely and lost.

“I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into couch corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transportation.”

All of her friends had moved away, married, had kids, moved on and she wanted to challenge herself to becoming an extrovert. She was impressed with her friends who were extroverts and she wanted to mirror what they did.

“Willow had stopped to pet a woman’s dog in Prospect Park: she ended up spending the day with the woman, going to a jazz club with her until 4 a.m., and later landing her dream job through one of her new friend’s connections. She’d met her boyfriend in a line for the bathroom at a festival. She discovered she had hypoglycemia by talking to a doctor at a party. Her entire life has been shaped by these random encounters. All because she chooses to talk and listen to people she has just met, rather than run away from them at full speed muttering, “I don’t speak English!” “

So she sought out advice from experts in the field. She went to class, therapy, she took an improv course. She took a class in stand-up comedy that resulted in her having to actually perform. She spoke to random strangers everywhere she went.

“In London, I learned quickly that if you talk to a stranger in public, they look at you like you’ve slapped them in the face: shocked and aggrieved. Betrayed as well, because you have broken the social contract that we all agreed to follow in public: no one exists but you.”

She went to networking events:

“I make a few rules before each event. Go with an intention. Talk to three people, with Richard’s advice in mind, and aim to really bond or connect with one person. Psychologists also say that it takes time for shy people to warm up, so if you always leave after ten minutes, you’re never giving yourself the chance to actually succeed. Stay for at least an hour.”

I found the book really fascinating and funny. The writer is hilarious and her sense of humor is dry. I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed reading about her journey and the growth she went through.

“…over the course of the year, I’d simply found that it was easy to get into Deep Talk with other women. Maybe it was because we usually had more in common, maybe it was because we’re generally encouraged to talk more openly about our feelings—I don’t know why, but it just seemed like every time I took that leap into the uncomfortable unknown, women would leap right in after me.”

The book also made me think of my own life and how often I say “no” to events because of anxiety or fear. And it made me question how my life could be enriched if I said yes more often.

#2 Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

It was predictable but enjoyable.

Drue is in her mid-thirties. Her life is not going as planned. She’s a jock that has to give up her sport due to an injury and her drifter-type lifestyle comes to an end when she gets fired as a bartender. Her mom dies and her estranged dad offers her a job in his law office. Since she’s down and out she decides to take it. She needs the money.

The story is about Drue reconnecting with her dad, repairing the relationship, discovering she’s pretty good at being a private investigator, and uncovering who murdered one of their clients.

The book is pretty good. There were some slow parts in the middle and some parts that needed some editing down for brevity sake but overall I liked the character, I liked the story and the world that was created.

#3 The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this book a lot. Zoe is a single mom to Hari, who is 4 and doesn’t speak yet. She’s struggling in London. Her job isn’t great, she barely makes any money to get by, her flat is horrible and living in London is busy, crowded and dirty. Her ex-boyfriend is no help. She’s at her wit’s end and a friend reaches out and gives her a lifeline. She decides to pack everything up and move to Scotland to be a nanny and help out Nina with her book mobile in Scotland.

The three kids she’s a nanny for are terrible. She’s “Nanny Number 7”. They live in a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The housekeeper is a curmudgeon. The father is a recluse and rarely around. But Zoe is determined to make it work.

The book is charming and you really picture the environment. I liked it a lot.

#4 Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This was a very interesting, well-written book. It spans a few decades, but focuses on the 1980s. Dana is a teenager in Atlanta, being raised by her mother who is “married” to James Witherspoon, a bigamist. Dana and her mother are aware of his first family, wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse. But the first family has no idea they exist.

The book is a fascinating read about African America culture in the 80s, the history of racism in the south, and how bigamy “works” (or doesn’t). Dana and Chaurisse tell their stories, and of course, the two worlds collide and the truth comes to light. It’s so well written and I could not put it down! I didn’t like the ending but the rest of the book was excellent.

#5 Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

I heard about this book on a podcast and it was a very interesting read! The author is a first generation Indian, living in Memphis, which is apparently a very segregated city. She writes a lot about race and what it was like being brown in a very white city.

“I came of age not feeling fully at home in either black or white spaces… I
was born brown in a city divided into black and white… I started to resent being treated as a one-woman diversity show.”

“… white classmates asking for bindis after Gwen Stefani started wearing them on the red carpet in 1998 was stressful. None of us knew what “cultural appropriation” was yet, but I could feel the specter of it pulsing around the edge of my life.”

Eventually she came out as bisexual and married a white woman and they adopted an African American baby boy. She writes about the struggles she has living in the south as an Indian-American, a lesbian, and a mother of a black boy who might be transgender.

“… when the act of explaining your family structure becomes a part of every day of your life, you grow tired of being gracious.”

“That’s always the message: You can be gay as long as you aren’t too gay. Or you can be gay in private. We’ll let you stay if you live a compartmentalized life; keep the freaky stuff where we can’t see it.”

It’s a very deep and thoughtful book; very revealing and honest. And despite the heavy topics of race, racism, homophobia and trans-phobia, the book didn’t feel dark or heavy or depressing. It felt like an honest reflection of one woman’s experience, without anger or resentment, as she tries to live her best life in a space that doesn’t understand “different.”

#6 The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Holy smokes! This is by the best book I’ve read this year. It was so engrossing, so exciting, so fascinating, I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN. And when I finished reading it, I was bummed out.

It’s a non-fiction book about a lost city in Honduras. The writer talks about the mythology around the lost city and what cultures may have lived there, Maya or something else?

“Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” “

He writes about all the different attempts to find the city. And he also explains the history of Honduras and South America that adds a lot of depth to the story without bogging it down and making it slow or boring to read. NO editing needed! It was perfect.

He joins a group of scientists and filmmakers who are trying to find the lost city with new technology.

“It was the first time our expedition had come together in one room, a rather motley crew of scientists, photographers, film producers, and archaeologists, plus me, a writer. We all had widely varying experience in wilderness skills. Catacamas was a dangerous city, controlled by a violent drug cartel; no one was to leave the hotel without an armed military escort. We were to keep our mouths shut about what we were doing here. We were not to engage in conversation about the project within hearing of hotel staff, or leave papers lying around our rooms referring to the work, or conduct cell phone calls in public.”

I was super fascinated by all the horrors in the jungle, too.

“It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing… As for the hazards we would face in the jungle, venomous snakes were at the top of the list. The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (“yellow beard”). It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet…The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison… He told us to wear our Kevlar snake gaiters at all times, including—especially—when we got up to pee at night.”

“… disease-bearing insects we might encounter, including mosquitoes** and sand flies, chiggers, ticks, kissing bugs (so called because they like to bite your face), scorpions, and bullet ants, whose bite equals the pain of being shot with a bullet.”

After much planning the group went into the jungle and had security with them at all times. Then they had Honduran security camped nearby to keep the cartel away from them).

“On a hard day’s travel they were lucky to make one or two miles. Steve and his crew ate MREs, while the Indian guides ate iguanas. At one point the guides became agitated; taking out their weapons, they confided that the group was being tracked by jaguars. They frequently ran into venomous snakes and were assaulted day and night by insects.”

The book also discusses how untouched that particular Honduran rain forest was. “The spider monkeys, he said, were another sign of an uninhabited area, as they normally flee at the first sight of humans, unless they are in a protected zone. He concluded, “I don’t think the animals here have ever seen people before.”

And the tragic reality: “The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting.”

I will leave off here because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book but I will say this: if you are looking for a fantastic read, exciting Indian-Jones-esque book packed with history and culture, read this book. It was SO good. So so good. One of my favorites!

Happy Reading!

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