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

atomic cityISBN ~ 978-1451617528
Publisher ~ Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
No. Of Pages ~ 373 pages
Links ~ The Girls of Atomic City, Amazon, Indie Bound, Simon & Schuster

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way.

3 Thumbs-UpAs part of my attempt to widen my reading scope, I started on the non-fiction journey with this book.  From the synopsis I felt it would cover a lot of my interests; WWII, women’s roles during that time and the uncovering of a war work that was kept secret at the time.

In a lot of senses this book did hit all those things on the head, but it still felt lacking in a way that I could not quite put my finger on.  Covering a variety of young, and not so young, women from a variety of societal and ethnic backgrounds this book managed to paint a very real picture of what life must have been like living and working on a top-secret compound in the middle of nowhere.  Although no one woman’s life was written about in detail and depth, I felt that this did not detract from the book in any way as I felt to have done so would most likely have resulted in the omission of something else.

In this books pages the reader can learn about the process of both thought and scientific work that led up to the deployment of fat man and little boy, and the scientific parts of the book that traces the journey and developed of tubealloy, as it was called, is informative and educational without being dry and dusty; not being a chemistry or engineering buff myself I found I learnt a lot from these parts of the book.

There are some wonderful black and white photographs in this book that help illustrate the vastness of the place called Oak Ridge, and also some then and now pictures of three of the women mentioned in the book.  It would have been nice to see some now pictures of the site to see what had become of the place rather than have to do an internet search to satisfy my curiosity.

It is apparent from the way in which the book is written, that the Author spent an extensive amount of time research the topic and talking with those who were there at the time; I wonder if my feeling of something being lacking in its pages, and the reason for my 3 thumbs review, being a result of some information that would have filled these ‘gaps’ still being sealed to the researcher.  Another reason for my 3 thumbs review was the random and rather silly typos that appeared in the book.  These could easily have been picked up by a more skilled proof reader and editor, and lifted my review rating.

Despite the low rating I would still recommend this book to any reader interested in this era, and wanting a satisfying and easy read.

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When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II ~ Molly Guptill Manning

when books went to warISBN ~ 978-0544535022
Publisher ~ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
No. Of Pages ~ 288 pages

 
I found this interesting article on thedailybeast.com and, because it involved books, wanted to share this with you.  I’m definitely going to be hunting this book down as it looks to be well worth the read.

“When the American armed forces prepared for the D-Day assault, the most in demand item was a book.

During World War II, books were one of the few items distributed to the American armed forces that were meant to make life at war bearable. American publishers, wanting to do their bit in the war, designed books that would fit the servicemen’s needs: small volumes in tempting titles that weighed next to nothing. These books were Armed Services Editions (“ASEs”), incredibly tiny paperbacks designed to fit the pocket of a standard issue military uniform. Over 120 million were printed over the course of the war with titles ranging from comics to Shakespeare and everything in between. Lonesome, homesick GIs eagerly grabbed these books and read them everywhere—while waiting in line for chow or a haircut, when pinned down in a foxhole, and while swinging in their hammocks below deck. And they were even carried into the Battle of Normandy.

Under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, plans for D-day were in the works for months before the invasion occurred in June 1944. In the final days leading to the boarding of the landing craft that would set out across the English Channel, American soldiers readied themselves. They crammed into their packs dozens of pounds of ammunition, provisions, extra weapons, and other necessities. Although the recommendation was that the men not bring more than forty-four pounds of equipment, it was estimated that some men weighed at least three hundred pounds as they waddled under the weight of their packs. As they waited for an announcement of when the invasion would begin, there was little to do but worry, pray, or read. Silence pervaded. A rosary could be seen in many a hand. According to one man, “Priests were in their heyday. I even saw Jews go and take communion. Everybody [was] scared to death.”

General Eisenhower took an especial interest in the morale of his troops. As he noted in his own memoirs, “morale, given rough equality to other things, is supreme on the battlefield.” Eisenhower was known to read western novels to relax and relieve stress, and the men who would be doing the fighting deserved no less. Anticipating the time it would take to assemble all of the men needed for the mission, and the boredom and anxiety associated with the chore of waiting, General Eisenhower’s staff earmarked over a half-million books to be distributed to the Americans as they waited for the invasion to begin. Among the ASEs that were set aside were Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Charles Spalding and Otis Carney’s Love at First Flight, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dozens of other titles joined the men on the shore of the English Channel.

Prior to the invasion, the Army’s Special Services Division, which was responsible for serving the morale needs of soldiers, distributed some of the soldiers’ favorite items. Packs of cigarettes were shoved into pockets, candy bars were grabbed by the handful, but of all things, the most sought-after item was the ASEs. As one Special Services officer recalled, palpable tension mounted in the staging areas, and books were the only thing available that “provided sorely needed distraction to a great many men.” When the loading process finally began, many men, realizing how much weight they were carrying, stopped to unburden themselves of unnecessary items near the docking area. The ground was littered with a variety of objects, but among the heaps of discarded inessentials “very few Armed Services Editions were found by the clean-up squads that later went through the areas.” Weighing as little as a couple of ounces each, ASEs were the lightest weapon that the men could bring along.

The Americans who landed at Utah and Omaha Beaches on June 6 had vastly different experiences. The American Fourth Division poured ashore at Utah Beach, meeting very little opposition. In fact, some men were a little let down at how anticlimactic the landing was; they described it as seeming like just another practice invasion. The early waves of troops landing at Omaha Beach, by contrast, faced near-certain death. As soon as the transports lowered their ramps, the exiting men were thrust into the line of fire. German machine-gun spray ripped across the boats, instantly killing the hapless Americans on them. For the first wave of LCIs that reached Omaha Beach, the death rate was nearly 100 percent; no one got off the beach. Later waves of troops faced grievous losses on the shore. Shell-shocked, many men simply froze, unable to move toward safety. Others who forded through the barrage of gunfire and mortar blasts and moved to the shelter of the cliffs at the top of the beach suffered injuries along the way. Unable to go farther, their shattered bodies dropped to the sand and stayed there until medics arrived. Many men who climbed the beach later that day would never forget the sight of gravely wounded soldiers propped up against the base of the cliffs, reading.”

Excerpted from When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. Copyright © 2014 by Molly Guptill Manning.

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Chickamauga ~ Charles Wright, Poet Laureate

CHICKAMAUGA

Chickamauga

Dove-twirl in the tall grass.
End-of-summer glaze next door
On the gloves and split ends of the conked magnolia tree.
Work sounds: truck back-up-beep, wood tin-hammer, cicada, fire horn.
___________
History handles our past like spoiled fruit.
Mid-morning, late-century light
calicoed under the peach trees.
Fingers us here. Fingers us here and here.
____________
The poem is a code with no message:
The point of the mask is not the mask but the face underneath,
Absolute, incommunicado,
unhoused and peregrine.
______________
The gill net of history will pluck us soon enough
From the cold waters of self-contentment we drift in
One by one
into its suffocating light and air.
_______________
Structure becomes an element of belief, syntax
And grammar a catechist,
Their words what the beads say,
Words thumbed to our discontent.

Charles Wright ~ Poet Laureate

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Review: Vietnam Reflections ~ Steve McKenna

Vietnam ReflectionsISBN ~ 978-1608080526
Publisher ~Writelife
No. Of Pages ~ 204 pages
Links ~ bqb Publishing, Amazon

Vietnam Reflections is a haunting account of the effects of the Vietnam War. Written with such vivid imagery and detail, the reader will feel every heartbeat, every squash of a soldier’s boot in the Delta Rice Paddy, and will hear the whistling of incoming rounds as they find their mark. At times inspiring, and at times bringing the reader to tears, Vietnam Reflections is a collection of stories that trace the evolution of several eighteen-year-old farm boys who went off to war. When they finally returned home, they found that their service and sacrifices were for naught. Following their return to the States, the soldiers were left to survive on their own. Many found that the only way out of Vietnam for good was to end their own lives or to live homeless. These stories are their voice- their screams- about a distant place and a distant time, about a war that went amok… a war that many Americans wish to forget.

5 Thumbs-UpThere are many books available for the reader interested in the Viet Nam war, many written by historians or Officers that were there during the war.  They cover the commanding of Soldiers or the events that led up to the war, not many are written by the ‘boots on ground’ Soldier; this is one such book and is a debut ‘novel’ from this Author.

I use the word ‘novel’ in a loose term when talking about this book because, as I read it I realised this wasn’t a fictionalised account of the war, but the thoughts and feelings of one of the veterans of a war the country would rather forget.

This book grips the reader from the first page and takes them inside the mind of one of those ‘grunts’; you remember them, the ones who on returning home found a nation that turned their collective backs on them.  Through the Authors words I was made to feel the emotions he experienced when his friends died in arms; be a party to the thoughts that when through his mind whilst enduring day-to-day living in country that didn’t want him there.

This book pulls no punches, but should be a must read for anyone who thinks the veterans of that era are not deserving of our respect.  By the time I finished this book my emotions were raw, and I felt a connection with this Author that was really unexpected.  I’m not sure if this was due to the fact that my Husband is an Active Duty Soldier, or the fact that this Author manages to convey the horrors of war in such a way that the reader can’t help but be moved; I have a feeling it was both.

This Author lays bare his soul for all to see.  I hope it helps him on his road to healing.  I would highly recommend this book to any who are looking to read about how the war really affected those who fought it.

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Review: The Guns of Napoleon ~ Peter Lean

Guns of NapoleonISBN ~ 978-1910162668
Publisher ~ Kindle Amazon
No. Of Pages ~ 320 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A cross genre (time-travel/historical) novel, based on the short story with the same title.

The Guns of Napoleon takes Victor Sirkov, professor of History at St. Petersburg State University, and passionate scholar of Napoleon, on an adventure through time to meet the very man he thought he knew so well.

Victor is contacted by the mysterious ChronoLab and given the opportunity to witness first hand what he could only have imagined. He is sent back two hundred years through a natural wormhole, and brings his personal demons with him.

Thrust into a world very different from the one he left behind, Victor must fight for survival during Napoleon’s fateful, and bloody, conquest of Russia. Knowing how history should play out, doesn’t always give him the upper hand, as Victor soon finds out.

The Guns of Napoleon deals with the consequences of changing significant moments of world history, and to what lengths one man will go to correct them, not only for the greater good of mankind, but for the woman he loves.

4 Thumbs-UpI was given this book by the Author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, as if I ever do anything else in my reviews but be honest and unbiased.

To be honest I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title and then read the synopsis, but I can say that this book was well worth the time it took to read it.

The main protagonist is well written and, although he can be a bit of an ass in some parts of the story, he is a well-rounded and likeable chap.  The way in which he reacts to the period of history he finds himself in is very realistic and when faced with events that his interaction with could change the course of history, it is interesting to see which path he takes.  This is a character that makes the reader think, and also makes them examine what they themselves would do if they were in his shoes.  What I particularly liked about this character was the way he was able to accept some of the new facts he learnt about certain historical figures; he was not narrow-minded or blinkered as can be the case with some History Professors.  He appeared to me to fully embrace the notion that History is more about the motivation of those who were around at the time that shaped History, rather than just it being a random series of events.

Blending time travel with actual historical events in a piece of fiction must be a difficult task; the Author pulls this off magnificently.  The way in which they wrote this book reminded me very much of Connie Willis and her Oxford Time Travel books, but without the humour that is apparent in those novels.  My only complaint in this book, and the reason for giving it a 4 thumbs rating was, I felt, it could have done with some really tight editing to correct some of the minor errors in it.  Apart from this everything else about the book was thoroughly enjoyable; the writing style of the Author, the plot and the premise all joined together to show that this is an Author that has what it takes to satisfy an established publishing house, rather than remaining in the self-publishing world.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers interested in both the Historical and Time-travel genres, as it is a wholly engrossing read.

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Review: Black Cross (World War Two #1) ~ Greg Iles

black cross

The New York Times bestselling author of Spandau Phoenix offers another riveting novel–a blockbuster that sets forth an intriguing premise and answers a bewildering question. Fact: In 1945, Allied scientists combing the secret laboratories of the ruined Third Reich discovered a weapon that could have completely wiped out D-Day invasion forces. Why didn’t Hitler use it?  It is January 1944 — and as Allied troops prepare for D-day, Nazi scientists develop a toxic nerve gas that will repel and wipe out any invasion force. To salvage the planned assault, two vastly different but equally determined men are sent to infiltrate the secret concentration camp where the poison gas is being perfected on human subjects. Their only objective: destroy all traces of the gas and the men who created it — no matter how many lives may be lost…including their own.

5 Thumbs-Up

If you have a weak stomach, this is not the novel for you.  However, if you do decide to pass it over, you will be missing an incredible read.

What characters there are in this book, from real life to fictional, and all are woven together to create people who the reader will either be 100% with throughout, or really want to see them come to a grizzly end.  Despite them all been based in the WWII era, and everyone knows the outcome of this war, it doesn’t stop the reader from immediately connecting with anyone of a number of the principal players in this plot.  It does take some time to get to know the characters but the wait is well worth it and the journey to the reader learning about them and their motivations adds a great deal to the plot.  There really isn’t a great deal more I can say about the characters in this book without beginning to include spoilers in this review; one thing I will say though is that it was very refreshing to read some very strong female characters and to travel their path with them to its conclusion, and many times the ‘who will you choose?’ question raises its ugly head, and they have to make that choice.

This novel is a very solid and well researched piece of historical fiction with, as I mentioned earlier, fact woven seamlessly into the fiction.  Some of the facts included actually had me doing research myself into them once I had finished the book and this is always a good thing.  Although this could be listed as a holocaust book, the action does not take place entirely in a camp and when it does it is not the usual kind of camp we read about.  The descriptions of the horrific things that took place in this camp to not just Jews actually made my stomach turn at some points and I am far from being squeamish.  It is not a fast paced book by any stretch of the imagination, but this is good as when the action takes place it leaves the reader breathless and wanting to read on.  I loved the ending to this book, in fact I think it was my favourite part; there were no neat ribbon tied packages that gave closure, but an image of hope for the future which epitomised everything those who had participated in this war fought for.

I would highly recommend this book to any and all readers.

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Five September Non-Fiction Book Releases

It’s been a while since I posted new book releases and, with fall just around the corner bringing with it cozy book reading weather, I decided now was a good a time as any to let everyone know what is coming our way in the non-fiction genre.

smokeTitle ~ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Author ~ Caitlin Doughty
ISBN ~ 978-0393240238
Publisher ~ W. W. Norton & Company
Release Date ~ September 15th 2014
Description ~ A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

sally rideTitle ~ Sally Ride: Life on a Mission
Author ~ Sue Macy
ISBN ~ 978-1442488540
Publisher ~ Aladdin
Release Date ~ September 9th 2014
Description ~ Sally Ride was more than the first woman in space; she was a real-life explorer and adventurer whose life story is a true inspiration for all those who dream big.

Most people know Sally Ride as the first American female astronaut to travel in space. But in her lifetime she was also a nationally ranked tennis player, a physicist who enjoyed reading Shakespeare, a university professor, the founder of a company that helped inspire girls and young women to pursue careers in science and math, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

From Sally Ride’s youth to her many groundbreaking achievements in space and beyond, Sue Macy’s riveting biography tells the story of not only a pioneering astronaut, but a leader and explorer whose life, as President Barack Obama said, demonstrates that the sky is no limit for those who dream of reaching for the stars.

unspeakableTitle ~ Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution
Author ~ Laurie Penny
ISBN ~ 978-1620406892
Publisher ~ Bloomsbury USA
Release Date ~ September 16th, 2014
Description ~ Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet.

Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draws on a broad history of feminist thought and her own experience in radical subcultures in America and Britain to take on cultural phenomena from the Occupy movement to online dating, give her unique spin on economic justice and freedom of speech, and provide candid personal insight to rally the defensive against eating disorders, sexual assault, and internet trolls. Unspeakable Things is a book that is eye-opening not only in the critique it provides, but also in the revolutionary alternatives it imagines.

Killing pattonTitle ~ Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General
Author ~ Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
ISBN ~ 978-0805096682
Publisher ~ Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition
Release Date ~ September 23rd 2014
Description ~ Readers around the world have thrilled to “Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy,” and “Killing Jesus”–riveting works of nonfiction that journey into the heart of the most famous murders in history. Now from Bill O’Reilly, anchor of “The O’Reilly Factor,” comes the most epic book of all in this multimillion-selling series: “Killing Patton.”

General George S. Patton, Jr. died under mysterious circumstances in the months following the end of World War II. For almost seventy years, there has been suspicion that his death was not an accident–and may very well have been an act of assassination. “Killing Patton” takes readers inside the final year of the war and recounts the events surrounding Patton’s tragic demise, naming names of the many powerful individuals who wanted him silenced.

MinecraftTitle ~ Minecraft: Construction Handbook: An Official Mojang Book
Author ~ Scholastic Inc.
ISBN ~ 978-0545685177
Publisher ~ Scholastic Inc.
Release Date ~ September 30th 2014 (first published April 29th 2014)
Description ~ If you can dream it, you can build it in Minecraft! This OFFICIAL guide will give you tips and tricks on how to be a creative genius!

You can make theme parks with incredible waterslide rides, or entire pirate coves complete with galleons! Is there nothing that can’t be achieved in Minecraft? Here the experts talk you through amazing constructs which range from awe-inspiring cathedrals to wacky inventions–like the hilarious animal cannon that catapults cows out to sea! Find out which are Notch’s personal favorites and get step-by-step instructions to fuel your own creative genius. Be ORE-some!

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