The Girls of Atomic City

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

This is the story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, and several of the women who lived and worked there. From 1942 until the end of World War II, several huge factories were constructed to enrich uranium to make plutonium for atomic bombs. At one point, over 75,000 people lived in a city that wasn’t on any map until 1949. Many of the workers were young women recruited from small towns across the south, and sent by train to a secret destination. The author interviewed dozens of these women, and focuses on ten of them, who worked a variety of jobs in Oak Ridge, including janitor, welder, machine operator, secretary, nurse, statistician, and chemist. Except for the chemist, the women had no idea about the nature of the project, as there was high security everywhere. Anyone who talked about their job faced eviction from the town. Housing, much of it temporary, was in high demand, from huts to trailers to dormitories. There was mud everywhere, yet there was also a sense of community. These young women worked and lived in an odd mix of freedom, away from families and home towns, and with restrictions. Some married couples couldn’t even live together, and there was racial segregation. When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the community of Oak Ridge reacted with a mixture of shock, pride, guilt, and shame. They had helped end the war, but with a high cost. The author has tied the stories of these women together in the memorable story of a little known chapter of the war.


Letters from Skye

skye jacketLetters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Recuperating from an injury, University of Illinois college student David Graham enjoys reading the poetry of Elspeth Dunn, and writes her a fan letter. This begins a correspondence of several years before and during World War I. Elspeth is married to sullen Iain, her brother Finlay’s best friend, and lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Afraid to leave the island, Elspeth leads a somewhat narrow life. She writes poetry, roams around the island, and worries about her husband and brother in World War I, and then about David when he volunteers as an ambulance driver in France. A parallel story is set in Edinburgh and London in 1940, where Elspeth’s daughter Margaret tries to learn about her past after her mother disappears after an air raid, and also worries about her boyfriend Paul, in the war. Told through letters, this double love story reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, although it’s not quite as memorable. A quick read, with humor, romance, and drama, recommended for fans of historical fiction or family sagas.


The End of Night

end of night jacketThe End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard

Do you remember seeing the Milky Way? Has it been a while? I remember seeing it, probably growing up in the suburbs and definitely on camping trips, but not for many years. Paul Bogard eloquently describes the artificial brightening of our skies at night, and why this matters. He travels around Europe, North America, and to some islands to talk with lighting designers, night shift workers, park rangers, naturalists, and astronomers to discuss light pollution and to observe the wonders of the night sky in some of the Northern Hemisphere’s darkest places. More energy-efficient, shielded light fixtures can go a long way to limit light pollution and reduce energy usage, and the author explores whether brightly light streets, buildings, and parking lots are the safest. Most of all, he shares with readers the wonders to be found in experiencing the sky at night.


The Shade of the Moon

shade of the moon jacketThe Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

What happens after the world as we know it changes forever? According to author Susan Beth Pfeffer, love and family ties are still important, but life can be rather bleak. This is the story of Jon Evans and his extended family, four years after a meteor struck the Moon and moved it closer to Earth. His sister Miranda narrated the first book in the series, Life as We Knew It. Now it’s little brother Jon’s turn to grow up. Jon isn’t always likeable, as he is the privileged younger brother with better food, less work, and even filtered air on the bus that takes his soccer team to games. He lives with his stepmother Lisa and little brother Gabe in upper-class Sexton, rarely seeing the rest of his family, who live in working-class White Birch. His conflicted relationship with his sister Miranda and his guilt over the loss of a friend make Jon a realistic character. When a riot after a soccer game changes his life dramatically, he has some hard choices to make. Sarah, a doctor’s daughter, and Ruby, Lisa’s domestic worker, help open his mind to the injustices of life for those in White Birch.


October Book Discussions

The Tuesday morning book group will be discussing The River of Doubt by Candice Millard on Tuesday, river of doubt jacketOctober 15 at 10:00 a.m. in Group Study Room 2. Candice Millard’s newest book, The Destiny of the Republic was so interesting that we decided to read her earlier book. this is a tale of real-life adventure and exploration, set in the Amazon rain forest in 1913. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, 55, needed a new challenge. He isn’t planning to explore a completely unknown river, but when the opportunity is offered, he agrees, which results in the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition to explore and chart the Ria da Duvida, or the River of Doubt. Naturalists from the American Museum of Natural History plan to collect specimens, a travel-writing priest, Father Zahm, helps make arrangements, and a failed explorer, Anthony Fiala, arranges for provisions. At his mother’s urging, Kermit Roosevelt, 24 and in love, reluctantly joins his father’s party. The expedition turns into a real test of endurance, with whitewater, theft, piranhas, and illness being just some of the dangers they faced.

sweet tooth jacketThe Tuesday evening book group will discuss Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan on Tuesday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. in the 2nd floor Mahlke Meeting Room. Serena Frome loves literature but is encouraged to study Math at Cambridge. When she graduates in 1972, she is recruited by a professor for MI-5. The Cold War is ongoing, and her assignment is to help encourage and fund writers whose views are politically correct.

The Crime Readers will be discussing The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler on Thursday, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. This book group is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.

Copies of all three titles are available now at the Reference Desk.

Night Film

night film jacketNight Film by Marisha Pessl

From the title, this sounds like a dark book, and it is.  A combination of horror and mystery, the novel is  centered around the activities of Stanilas Cordova, a genius movie director, who produced a limited and very notorious group of films made in the seventies and eighties that were so malevolent and disturbing that they were banned from being viewed in theaters and thus could only be seen through special viewings set up by his cult of followers, called Cordovites. These viewings took place in hidden underground venues. The movies were produced on Cordova’s secluded and highly secure residence, surrounded by an twenty foot high impenetrable concrete barrier. All the actors are hired not so much for their talent as their ability to keep a secret. Cordova has not given an interview or been seen in thirty years. There are rumors that these movies Cordova has been making are “snuff” films” but there is no evidence.

The plot begins with the suicide of Stanilas’s daughter, Ashley Cordova, a gorgeous, brilliant child and a piano prodigy. Scott McGrath, a veteran journalist, suspects that Ashley’s death is not a suicide, and with two young people who knew Ashley intimately, sets out to discover the “Truth”.  As they probe deeper into the Oeuvre of the secretive director, the trail leads through depraved night clubs, secluded apartment buildings and ultimately to The Peak,  the mystery shrouded Adirondack estate of Cordova, which has been long been abandoned.

The book is full of page turning excitement, and not a few dark gruesome scenes. However the end of the book resembles Captain Willard’s search for the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz in the movie “Apocalypse Now”.  Can the true horror of people ever be known.  As Colonel Kurtz says at the end of the movie, “The Horror, the Horror”.


The Universe versus Alex Woods

universe versus alex jacketThe Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Is the universe out to get Alex Woods? Read this book and you could see why Alex wonders about it. At 11, he is struck in the head by a meteorite falling through the roof of his house. When he regains consciousness, he discovers that the blow has led to epileptic seizures, and he stays home for months recovering. He studies on his own, but mainly about the brain and astronomy. When he goes to a new school, there is no hope of fitting in. Of course, his hair won’t grow over the scar. And then there’s the issue of his mother being a witch, running a small occult gift shop, and reading Tarot cards.

So, Alex is bullied. When he runs away from bullies, he gets in trouble and has to make reparations for what they did. This results in spending Saturday mornings with Mr. Peterson, who writes letters for Amnesty International and introduces Alex to the books of Kurt Vonnegut. Later Alex confronts the same bullies and gets in even bigger trouble. He attracts unusual friends, mostly adults. He starts a book club to read Vonnegut. And then, he has to make a choice whether to help Mr. Peterson even though his mother would never allow it. This results in Alex getting stopped at 17 trying to re-enter England with lots of money, a significant amount of marijuana, and while having a partial seizure. It doesn’t look good for Alex. But ultimately, he finds that he has free will, and finds his own path in life. Here’s more about Alex and the author.


Death of a Dyer

death of a dyer jacketDeath of a Dyer by Eleanor Kuhns

Will Rees has returned to his farm near Dugard, Maine. A traveling weaver since his wife’s death years ago, he has learned that his farm and his son David were neglected by his sister and brother-in-law. Now teenage David is basically running the farm while Will prepares to set up his loom, and former Shaker Lydia Jane is the new housekeeper. Will has strong feelings for Lydia, but isn’t ready to commit to marriage yet, so she lives in a cottage on the farm, and they try to avoid company. While serving in the Continental Army, Will learned he had a talent for solving crimes, demonstrated in the first book in the series, A Simple Murder, set in a Shaker community. When his childhood friend Nate Bowditch is killed, lawyer George Potter tells Will that Nate’s wife Molly would like him to clear her son Richard of suspicion of murder. The investigation pays for help with the harvest and in the kitchen, so Will is free to travel by wagon and investigate. He learns that Nate was greatly changed from the last time Will saw him, and preferred to live in a weaving cottage on his farm, researching dyes yet neglecting his family, and he also gambled. Richard has disappeared, but his half-brother, son of a slave, is also a suspect, and Will protects him from slave catchers. Many secrets in the Maine community of Dugard are unearthed, and Will’s life is threatened more than once. Reluctantly, he accepts Lydia’s help in his investigation, and even David’s input as well. Will and David have a complicated relationship that feels authentic. The late 18th century small town Maine setting is refreshingly different, and appealing. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Richard Waterhouse, and didn’t want the story to end. Lydia and Will are excellent company, and I hope for many more mysteries for them to solve.


The Son: A Novel

son jacketThe Son: A Novel by Philipp Meyer

During the Westward expansion of the United States, also known as “Manifest Destiny” no group of Indians gave the settlers more problems than the Comanche.  They dominated an area of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico that was called “Comancheria”  In “The Son”, Eli McCullough, the thirteen-year-old son of a rancher in West Texas is captured by the Comanche after his family is killed. Along with his brother they are taken, naked, on a two week ride back to the Comanche home base. The Comanche are fierce and warlike, and love going on raids against the whites, the Mexicans, and other Indian tribes. They bring back horses, booty, and slaves.  At First Eli is consigned to hard manual labor with the women of the tribe, but as he proves his worth as a hunter and warrior, he is promoted to going on raids, and even earns his first scalp. 

Eli’s experiences are just the beginning of the story covered in this book. The history of Texas is laid out in the stories of Eli and his descendants. Eli’s son Peter is caught up in a blood feud with the Mexican Garcia Clan over Cattle.  Later when the cattle use up all the resources of the  land, oil is discovered, dotting the landscape with drilling rigs and saving the families fortunes.  Eli’s great granddaughter, Jeanne is raised on the ranch and can hold her own with her brothers. However when she takes over the family oil business she encounters old fashioned sexism in the nineteen sixties.

The history of the Comanche have been covered in other books and films.  “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C Gwynne tells the story of Quanah Parker, the half breed son of Cynthia  Parker, who was actually abducted by the Comanche and became a member of the tribe. Quanah was the last great Chief of the Comanche and presided over their eventual destruction and consignment to the reservation. 

In the movie, “The Searchers” John Wayne plays  Ethan Edwards, a civil war veteran whose niece, Debbie, is captured by the Comanche, thus starting a three year odyssey by Ethan and his adoptive nephew Martin to find and bring Debbie back home.

In the movie “A Man named Horse” Richard Harris plays

I’m usually not big on family sagas, but this one really interested me because of the Comanche connection.


Storm Front

storm front jacketStorm Front by Jim Butcher 

I was inspired to read Jim Butcher’s first book, entitled “Storm Front” in his Dresden Files Series, after a friend excitedly introduced me to the main character, Harry Dresden–wizard extraordinaire! I am now a fan and am sure to read more in this series. Thrillers with car chase scenes just don’t grab me the way a giant scorpion (“an orthopod version of Frankenstein’s monster”) chasing a wizard does. I read this book on audio and the narrator James Marsters sounds as smooth as Butcher’s portrayal of Dresden. While this book didn’t center too much on the Chicago landscape, the series overall does. I think I’ll enjoy that aspect of the other novels that I’ll eventually get to. Some of the most pivotal points in the story take place outside of the city at a lakefront home where Harry Dresden confronts dark magic in an effort to solve two converging mysteries. The first case is of a missing person and the second is of a baffling killing spree, in which the murderer left a distinct signature mark. Lieutenant Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit suspects that only Dresden, her trusted wizard friend and private investigative colleague, can offer insight to this grisly case.  

Other suggested audio reads of dark fantasy that has lighthearted, witty humor mixed in are Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys,” read by Lenny Henry who is superb at speaking with multiple dialects. Jim Dale’s reading of the J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” audiobook series is also intense and versatile.