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

I was familiar in a vague sort of way with Oak Ridge, Tennessee but this book lays out the history of that community, which was established in 1942 but did not appear on any maps until seven years later. It grew rapidly in the next few years to include 75,000 people by 1945. Almost no one knew what the giant factories they toiled in were designed to produce. Many young women recruited from the South did know that their work could help end the war and bring home their brothers, friends, sweethearts and husbands from the overseas battlegrounds. They found out in August 1945 what the plant was producing and why complete secrecy was necessary when the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered. The Oak Ridge factories were enriching the uranium needed to produce atomic weapons. The women who had worked at Oak Ridge during the war that the author interviewed in 2009 to 2012 did have a “strange mix of feelings…after the bomb dropped.” Dorothy Jones expressed that it was hard for her to explain to those who hadn’t lived through it. She felt good and bad and had feelings of pride, guilt, joy, relief, shame, as well as sadness at the memories of those who were lost forever when the employees of Oak Ridge’s Clinton Engineering Works had worked so hard to bring them home.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Missing You, by Harlan Coben

I was familiar with Coben as a popular author but hadn’t read any books by him. In this one New York City Police Detective Kat Donovan had a friend who gives her a subscription to an Internet dating site. One of the first matches sent to Kat is that of an ex-boyfriend from years ago, Jeff was the one true love of her life. But the bad guys have found a way to exploit these longings for romance and the plot races away from here. My advice, make sure you meet your next Internet date at a coffee shop before planning any weekend getaways! I didn’t care for the violence but it wasn’t too over the top and the story definitely keeps you turning the pages.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan

This is Jordan’s first novel and winner of the 2006 Bellweather Prize for socially engaged fiction. The prize was established in 2000 by novelist Barbara Kingsolver and is funded by her. Mudbound is set in the years right after the end of World War II and centers on Laura and Henry McAllan and their family. Henry, a World War I veteran, without informing his wife, buys a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta and takes Laura and their two small daughters to live there with his father and troubled veteran brother, Jamie. Henry farms the land with the aid of sharecropper families both black and white. My book club, in general, liked this book although the plot is rather depressing and emphasizes the terrible racial injustices endured by black people in the South as well as the problems of returning veterans finding a place in society after the horrors of war that they witnessed.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders

I have enjoyed Flanders’ nonfiction books on Victorian society so I was eager to read this one, her first novel. Main character, Samantha Clair is a book editor, mostly of “women’s fiction” in present day London. As the author of several books, Flanders must be well acquainted with the publishing industry and here she portrays them, warts and all. but with sly humor. The plot involves the sudden disappearance of one of Samantha’s authors, fashion journalist Kit Lowell, whose new book is an expose of a recent fashion industry scandal involving the mysterious death of a high profile Spanish designer. The police are not taking Kit’s disappearance too seriously so Samantha decides to do some digging into it on her own. If Flanders writes another novel, I would definitely put it on my “must read” list.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, by David Greene

The author is one of the hosts of NPR’s Morning Edition. For two years, in 2010-2011, he was an NPR foreign correspondent and lived in Moscow. He returned to Russia in 2013 to make a five week long train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. Each chapter of this book is based on individuals he met and spoke with on stops on his trip across Russia. Each shows different facets of what life is like in Russia today. I think Greene was hoping to find more of a longing for Western style democracy among the people he met but many of them longed for a leader like Stalin who would provide stability and less of the government corruption and bribe taking that they encounter today. These glimpses into a different culture can help us understand the Russian people, their fatalism, endurance and love of their country, as imperfect as it is.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, by Andy Miller

Although he worked as a book editor in London, Miller felt that on closing in on his 40th birthday there were books he had been meaning to read for years. Life in the form of his career and family obligations had crept in. He was also spending far too much time reading emails, newspapers and magazines, doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords and “piddling about on the Internet.” So he set himself a goal of reading the books he had been avoiding and this volume is his take on those books. I have read seven of them but feel inspired by the author to try some of the others. Why not see how many appeal to you?

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

I read this book several years ago and just listened to the book on CD version which was read by the author. Angelou with her background as an actress and poet gives an excellent reading of her work. This is the first of the eventual seven volumes she wrote about her fascinating life. This book is often found on high school reading lists and is one of the most challenged. Angelou, born in 1928, grew up in the pre-Civil Rights era in Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis and San Francisco. The blatant, institutional racism of that time is graphically described. The author finds strength in her family, especially her mother, grandmother and brother and in her love and studies of literature including Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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