The Radium Girls

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The Radium Girls – Kate Moore – 2016 – Historical Non Fiction

Goodreads Summary:

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

My Thoughts:

I think the subject matter of this book is fascinating as I knew very little about radium poisoning before I read it. This book looks in great depth at the social changes that happened following the Radium Girls cases and if you are looking for a detailed timeline of the matter this is a perfect read.

In particular I enjoyed the parts of the book where the style was closer to fiction, which happens particularly in the prologue and first section of the book. I found this made the information easier to take in than the final section which read more like a series of events that the author had researched but was unsure how to fit into the same style. The author had clearly done a lot of research, but then had tried to fit far too much into the book leaving me feeling bogged down.

I was very thankful there was a list of the key players in the cases at the front of the book. There are so many scientists, business men and radium girls mentioned (some of which the author goes into their stories in great detail) and it was confusing remembering who they were. I think the book could have been improved by having a timeline of the main events as a lot of dates were also mentioned such as when the girls started work, noticed symptoms or died, and as the author included so much of her research I wish a timeline had been included so that I didn’t have to keep flicking to remember what else had happened.

I gave this book 3/5. Although I found the subject matter interesting, the book was quite long-winded, often unnecessarily, which at times made reading feel like walking through mud.

Book Thoughts: Weetzie Bat

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Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block – 1989 – Fantasy

Book Summary

This could be a book about cheap cheese and bean burritos, slinkster dogs, lanky lizards and rubber chickens …Or strawberry sundaes with marshmallow toppings, surfing, stage-diving and sleeping on the beach …It could even be a book about magic. But what it’s definitely about is Weetzie Bat, her best friend Dirk and their search across L.A. for the most dangerous angel of all …true love.

My Thoughts:

Weetzie is the main character of the story. It is difficult to give an opinion on her because the book is so short we never really get to know who she is. The book is part of a seven part series, so if I continue reading them I might get more of an idea of her as a character, as well as the other secondary characters. I’d like to see more of the characters because they felt a bit one-dimensional, but this also suits the style of the novella. The story is told from the third person, but it’s in a really impersonal way which again feels like a deliberate move to make the story a bit ‘weird’. The characters all have very odd names, and I think one of the strengths of the book is actually how fantastical and magical it feels, as if you’re watching aliens on another planet.

Apart from the lack of characterisation I quite enjoyed the book. It was a quick read, at just over 100 pages. I really enjoyed the last line of the book which was “I don’t know about happily ever after… but I know about happily.” I can’t really understand why this isn’t some sort of Facebook meme, it applies to so many situations in life.

I’m not really a huge fan of the cover. I really don’t like the colours together, and it’s a little bit boring. In fact in one of my reading challenges I used this book for the prompt to read a book with an ugly cover. To be honest, that’s probably my biggest criticism I could find.

I think if you want a short fantasy book that you can get through quite quickly I’d recommend this. It’s not brilliantly written or full of plot, but there are some cute quotes that made me feel a little bit more philosophical. On Goodreads I gave this book 3 out of 5.

Book Thoughts: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell – 2017 – Short Stories

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Book Summary:

Stories of family and magic, lost souls and superstitions. Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.

Mermaids are on display at the local aquarium. A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. And a couple are rewriting the history of the world in the middle of the night.

My thoughts:

I often watch Jen Campbell’s YouTube channel, and I’m a big fan of her. I particularly enjoy her videos about disability and its representation in different media. So when she said that she was writing a new book for adults, I was really interested to read it. It’s a really sweet collection of fairy-tale-esque short stories, many of which have aspects of disability or being “different”.

My favourite stories in the book were The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, or Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel. The first was written in a script style and this made it really unique from the rest of the book. It was the easiest story to read and get absorbed in, and it was quite sweet to read about a couple having cute conversations in the middle of the night. Aunt Libby’s story was my favourite story for plot. It’s about an old lady who owns a hotel where the guests sleep in coffins to get closer to ‘the other side’. The hotel is supposed to be haunted and although it is supposed to be a scam, there is a spooky twist at the end.

My least favourite story was probably Margaret and Mary and the End of the World, or Bright White Hearts. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the writing, but I just didn’t really understand the references, as I’m not really into fantasy and fairy tales. The writing in the book is truly magical, so it was a bit of a shame I didn’t understand them. On Jen’s youtube channel she has talked about the stories a bit and some of the references, and I’d love to read the stories again and read them a bit more slowly to fully understand the references and be able to research them properly.

I really loved the cover of this book. I think it might be one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen. I think there was a day cover and a night cover when people talked about this on Booktube, but I’ve only seen the night cover so far – I prefer that one anyway!

I rated this book 3 / 5 on Goodreads. I would recommend the book to people who like fairy tales, and the writing is truly beautiful. I think if I’d understand the references more I’d definitely have given it a higher rating.

Book Thoughts: Lingo

Lingo: A language spotter’s guide to Europe – Gaston Dorren – 2014 -Language and Linguistics

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Book description:

Lingo takes us on an interesting tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way, it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian’s enviable grammar and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn why Esperanto could never catch on, how to language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands, and consider if English is like Chinese.

Lingo also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegians’ utepils (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans’ gonnen (the opposite of envy), or the Frisian tafalle (to turn out better than expected).

My thoughts:

In Lingo, Dorren is attempting to look at some of the most interesting points of over fifty European languages, and in many ways he does this. There are a huge range of languages presented throughout this book from the larger languages (like English, Spanish and German) to smaller languages I’d never even heard of before (Faroese, Monegasque and Ladino). He presents each language from a different point for example, the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, interesting vocabulary points, or its’ history.

Honestly speaking though I found the book didn’t really hold my attention. It was a bit dull in parts especially when it got more in-depth with a small language point such as Welsh spelling patterns or the Russian alphabet. The parts of the book where he looked at the language from a point of their history or social aspects are personally more interesting to me, and I found that these chapters didn’t happen often enough through the book to keep me engaged. My favourite chapter was the Belarusian language, where Dorren presented aspects of the language from the opposing aspects of people who were pro- and anti- Russian. For languages I have very little knowledge of (most of the smaller ones in the book) I’d rather he’d presented them in a similar way to this.

I’d also have liked a small glossary included in the book. Dorren uses a lot of linguistics-related jargon that, even with a degree in Linguistics, I wasn’t certain what they meant. I think if you were just someone with a passing interest in the subject you might be put off by the more specific references.

I gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads. My degree is in English Language and Linguistics, so although I’m not an expert in languages themselves, I have a keen interest in the sociological factors behind them. This is a great book I’d probably recommend for someone who is studying English Language or Modern Foreign Languages at A Level or university for something more educational but that still doesn’t require much concentration.

Book Review: The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist – Diane Chamberlain – 1997 – Drama

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When Susanna Miller loses custody of her eleven-month-old son, Tyler, she goes on the run instead of turning her little boy over to her ex-husband and his new wife. She dyes her hair, changes her name, and escapes from Boulder, Colorado, leaving behind everyone she knows including Linc Sebastian, the man who has been her best friend since childhood and who knows her better than anyone.

Susanna lands in Annapolis, Maryland – lonely, frightened – and always looking over her shoulder for someone who might recognize her. Just as she’s beginning to feel safe in her new surroundings, she stumbles across information that could save the lives of many people… if she’s willing to take it to the police. But going to the authorities means revealing her identity, admitting her guilt and, worst of all, losing her son.

The story is primarily told from Susanna’s point of view, although there are some points from Peggy or Linc. At parts of the book I could empathise with Susanna and her predicament, but I found the characters in this book particularly unbelievable. I couldn’t really relate to any of them, and didn’t really care about their problems they were facing, which was surprising because the premise of the book really appealed to me when I saw the book in the charity shop.

The main question in the book is whether Susanna should hand in the list she finds on her computer or not. However this question doesn’t really get left in her hands, and so feels a little redundant to the story. The problem is, as this is the only thing the plot is relying on, there is not much story left without it.

My favourite thing about this book was the plot of the list that Susanna finds on her computer, and trying to figure out what it was referring to.
The book had a rather predictable ending, like most of Chamberlain’s books but this time it felt a little boring rather than the usual satisfaction I get from the endings of her books.

I gave this book 2/5 on Goodreads. Unfortunately I don’t think this Chamberlain book is one of the memorable ones. I didn’t engage with the plot or the characters, although I’m not really sure why. I probably couldn’t recommend this book to somebody newly discovering Chamberlain’s books. I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t set in North Carolina or whether there was something in the plot that turned me off, but I really didn’t care about this book – it wasn’t that it was a badly written book, more just a bit dull.

Book Thoughts: The Silkworm

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith – 2014 – Crime

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The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series. A fairly unsuccessful author has gone missing and his wife wants Strike to find him. When the author turns up dead, Strike tries to prove that the killer was not his wife.

The main point of view in this book is obviously Strike himself, although I find it difficult to warm to him. He has a full of himself attitude, and at times it is tiring to listen to his internal pity party. I really hope that Strike develops more as a character in the next few instalments of the book, or that we learn something new about his character. I definitely preferred Robin, his assistant, in this book. Rowling always writes strong female characters and knowing what I have now read in the third instalment it is interesting to go back and read her again.

The suspects in this book were particularly interesting, although I do find it difficult to keep their storylines separate in my head. My favourite characters in this novel was Orlando and Pippa, and I think the book handles their storylines sensitively.

Some people on Goodreads have criticised Rowling for describing the London setting too much in the book. Although I’m sure it might be a bit much for people who live in London to see their city described in a slightly-fantasy way, for the majority of readers who live outside of the capital it’s helpful to read Rowling’s description of the world Strike and Robin inhabit.

My favourite thing about this book was the fact that it revolved around the literary world. It was interesting to see different characters from this industry, and to speculate whether any of the characters were influenced by real people Rowling might have met in her 20 plus years in the book-world.

However, I think the book was a bit too long and I don’t like the storyline as much as the first book, although I do like that it is still a traditional crime-book plot. I sometimes find it difficult to visualise the scenes in the book, and I wish that when the TV adaptation had been on television last year it had been more faithful to the novel.

I also like the way the book reveals the killer – I’m not very good at realising who the killer is before they are revealed in crime books and programmes, and the first time I read the book I was definitely taken by surprise. Re-reading the book, I can see the clever clues that are slipped in and I really enjoyed seeing those clues add up this time.

I always like the cover of these books because they reflect the London setting of the books.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. If you’ve read and enjoyed the first instalment in the series, then you should definitely give this one a go.

Book Thoughts: Marley and Me

Marley and Me – John Grogan – 2005 – Memoir

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In case you didn’t see the 2008 film, Marley and Me is a memoir by John Grogan about his dog Marley that he raises from a puppy and the funny memories he has about their time together.

My favourite part of the book is hearing about Marley’s attempts at training. Although I haven’t seen the film of the book since it came out 10 years ago, it really reminded me of the film. The book was easy to visualise and as a dog owner I could empathise with many of the things that Grogan was saying and the book was very relatable. When the inevitable happens at the end of the book I had tears in my eyes because it was described so beautifully.

My least favourite part of the book was that in places it was slightly boring, for example when it gave a lot of detail about the Labrador breed – however this was only a small part of the book and most of the book was very story driven.

The cover of this book features a beautiful picture of Marley on the front and some cute pictures on the inside – it really helps you to visualise the stories Grogan is telling.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. If you are a dog lover I would definitely recommend reading this book – it’s very moving. If you’re more of a cat person, I’d probably skip it as I think you have to be able to personally relate to the feelings Grogan is describing.

Book Thoughts: The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith – 2013 – Crime

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This book is the first in the Cormoran Strike series written under J.K. Rowling’s pen-name Robert Galbraith. A young model dies and the police put it down to suicide as a result of her mental health problems. A few months later her brother comes to Cormoran Strike, a private detective, as he doesn’t believe that her death was suicide.

The main character in the book is clearly Strike, who is my favourite character in the book. I found him relatable and I enjoyed reading his back story. Another character is Robin – from the reviews I have read of books in this series, she seems to be the most popular character, and although it is great to read a strong female character in a crime book, I find myself not really caring about her. In particular I wish that less time was spent on the relationship between her and Matthew – I don’t really find it adds anything to the story or Robin’s character.

The first time I read this book I also found the Bestigui characters the most interesting suspects and I really enjoyed finding out what was happening in their back story.

The story is told from a third person narrator, which makes it easier to follow the storylines of both Strike and Robin. It is obviously also Rowling’s traditional style, which makes the writing feel more familiar.

I would have liked to see more development of Strike’s character within the novel. You could see a clear development of Robin throughout this book, but the only thing I think would improve this novel is if you could see more development of Strike.

I think the real strength of this book is the dialogue Rowling manages to create and the way she creates believable characters with depth. I don’t usually read crime novels so the first time I read this book, I enjoyed reading the reveal of the killer, and on my recent reread I enjoyed picking up on all the clues I didn’t see the first time.

I would definitely recommend this book – I’m not usually a crime reader but this book is easy to read and has some well defined characters (bad character development is usually something that puts me off reading crime fiction). The writing feels similar enough to Rowling’s Harry Potter series that it is comfortable to read, while exploring a genre that I don’t usually read.

I rated this novel 5/5 on Goodreads.

Book Thoughts: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – 2015 – Thriller

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The plot:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking, and in one moment everything changes. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

The characters: 

The main character of this book was Rachel and most of the time I found that despite her (very obvious) flaws I actually liked her. I could sympathise with her and I was really rooting for her at the end of the book. Although I’ve never had similar problems to Rachel, her story was believable and I found it hard to blame her for her situation. I did wish that she had developed more over the story, as she often just seemed to blame others for her problems, rather than taking action and didn’t really do anything meaningful until the last few pages.

Another of my favourite characters was Megan – for the most part I felt sorry for her and the tragedies she had in her past, although present-day Megan was a bit more difficult to empathise with – I find it hard to empathise with people who play with other people’s partners, so after a while I did start to feel a bit fed up with her. Although I much preferred Rachel to Megan, I did enjoy reading her parts of the book the most, as it was often the parts where you found a new answer.

The book is also told through the viewpoint of Anna, who I really didn’t like – I found her a bit pathetic without any real action – she blamed Rachel for all her problems, but it is hard to be on the side of the mistress.

My thoughts:

Although I liked this book, I didn’t really understand the hype it received back in 2015. It was an interesting read, but thrillers aren’t really my favourite genre.

I found the plot a bit predictable (particularly the ending), although the way it played out was quite original. I did wish that characters had more of a meaningful relationship with each other, as that’s something I tend to read. I did find it easy to read the book though, and the time jumps were easy to understand. I think if I had seen the film before I read the book it might have been more confused though.

My Goodreads Rating:

4/5. Despite not being a particular fan of thrillers, I would recommend this book. I really liked the way that information was fed to the reader throughout the book, making you feel like you couldn’t trust anything you were reading.