Review: THE RADIUM GIRLS by Kate Moore

In The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, As World War I began, the military needed luminous dials to help the soldiers at night. Answering the call to make these dials were hundreds of young women who were lured in by higher than normal wages. Made with radium, a substance we now know to be harmful, these women were instructed to use their mouths to get a fine point on the brushes they used to paint the numerals. They were never told that radium could kill them. Years later in two towns, eight hundred miles apart, these workers began to get horrifically ill and die. They refused to go down without a fight and bravely fought the companies who had poisoned them. It is because of these extraordinary women that we have OSHA and safe guards in place for handling radioactive material.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was that the town I live in, Ottawa, Illinois, was home to several of these women who were affected by the negligent Radium Dial company. In 2011, the city unveiled a statue honoring these women, which put the story in my mind but I never followed up on any personal research. Imagine my surprise to learn that the studio was located less than one block from my apartment and that I drove past the property millions of times without knowing it’s history. Or that a house blocks from me was once the residence of Catherine Wolfe, who led the fight to win compensation from Radium Dial.

I alternated between anger and horror reading this book. I was angry because these women were murdered by companies who knew radium was dangerous but yet the companies kept that information from their workers. I was horrified by how much these women suffered as the radium slowly killed them. There were several times when I had to put the book away because it was so overwhelming.

It is very obvious from the moment you start reading this book, that Moore has done extensive research into these women’s lives. Moore writes so well and with such consideration to a heartbreaking story that I felt like these women had come back from the past to personally tell me their story. Moore has written a beautiful tribute to these women that will help them live on for future generations to read and learn about. Anyone interested in history would enjoy this fantastic book.

Title: The Radium Girls

Author: Kate Moore

Category: Nonfiction

Source: NetGalley 

Review: ALL THE GALLANT MEN by Donald Stratton with Ken Fire

Every American alive today knows Franklin Roosevelt’s famous quote about Pearl Harbor. Imagine though experiencing that attack first hand. Donald Stratton, a young man from Nebraska, was unlucky enough to be on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. At 8:10 in the morning, his life changed forever. Stratton was badly burned over a good portion of his body and spent months in rehab. As one of the last living survivors of this tragedy, Stratton recounts his life and the impact the bombing had on him in this gripping memoir.

If you read just one non-fiction book this year, I would recommend you select this book. Stratton and his co-author Ken Gire, make sure not to overwhelm non history/non military readers. From the first sentence until the last sentence, this book reads as well and as fast as any fiction book.

Stratton deals with a lot of survivors guilt. Even seventy-five years later the pain of his suffering and loss translates to the pages of this book. Stratton recounts how he lost friends and how he questioned for a good portion of his life whether or not he had lived a life worthy of his survival.

Stratton still holds onto a lot of anger towards the Japanese, which was shocking to me at first. One would think that time would blunt his anger and maybe perhaps allow him to forgive what had happened. However, given what he endured both physically and mentally, a reader can see why that grudge is still going strong.

All the Gallant Men by Donald Stratton is one of the best history books that I have read in a long time. This vivid memoir will have you wanting to finish this book in one sitting. Anyone who enjoys history or memoirs would love this book.

Title: All the Gallant Men

Authors: Donald Stratton and Ken Fire

Category: Non-Fiction

Source: Checked out from library

Review: THE MERCY OF THE SKY by Holly Bailey

In The Mercy of the Sky by Holly Bailey, on May 20, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma became the first ever urban area to be struck by two EF5 tornadoes since records of tornadoes have been kept. The nation watched in horror as the massive tornado roared through the suburban landscape. The tornado struck during the middle of the afternoon when thousands of kids were still in school and unfortunately two schools took a direct hit. In the aftermath,  twenty -five people were dead, including 7 children at the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

mercybookjacketBefore moving to the Midwest,  I honestly really didn’t pay attention to the weather.  I have learned that weather in this part of the country is extremely unpredictable.  Having seen 3 tornadoes since moving up here, I have a healthy respect for nature but the storms still hold a fascination for me. I can’t even imagine going through a tornado much less a violent tornado like the one that struck Moore in 2013

In The Mercy of the Sky, author Holly Bailey does a fantastic job of narrating the events of May 20th from different perspectives.  She also spends several chapters explaining the history of storms in Oklahoma and the so-called ” weather wars” between the news stations  (ever wonder why a helicopter is always filming tornadoes in that state?  Bailey explains why). She also explains how Moore continues to rise from the rubble over and over again.

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Lynsey Addario never dreamed of becoming a famous photographer. Photography started out as a hobby for her. Soon, however,  her hobby became the reason she used to travel abroad. Her journeys took her to Afghanistan  (both before and during the U.S war there), Sudan, Iraq, Libya,  Somalia, Turkey, Argentina, and various other places around the world. Her photographs have won her many accolades including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize.

22571757I saw this book on the new release shelves at my library and thought the book sounded decent. I was so wrong. This is by far the best non-fiction book I have read this year! Addario ‘s account of her career is a pulse pounding, tear jerking narrative that had me riveted from the first page. Her writing style thrusts you into what she experienced. I felt my heart beating faster as she embedded with U.S soldiers in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan and later when she was kidnapped in Libya. I cried when the soldiers she had been embedded with were wounded and killed and her chapter on the rape of women in the Congo was heartbreaking.

A lot of times when you read a non-fiction book, the writer will include a dozen back and white photos of the subject usually in the middle of the book. Addario and her publisher go above and beyond this.The book is full of her beautiful and at times tragic photos and they are all in color on glossy paper as they are meant to be seen.

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Review: WHERE THE WIND LEADS by Vinh Chung

Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung is a remarkable and inspiring true story of one family of refugees.  The Chung family had built themselves an empire in Vietnam but when the communists took over in 1975, they began to loose everything.  Eventually, the family realized that if they didn’t leave the country,  their growing family would have no chance for success in life. The family ended up becoming one of the thousands of “Boat People” who fled Vietnam and took to the sea,  not knowing where they would end up or if they would even survive.  After enduring horrifying conditions at sea, the family was eventually rescued and resettled in Fort Smith,  Arkansas.  The book follows young Vinh all the way until he graduates from Harvard and discusses the challenges of living in America.

18126604It’s hard not to read this book and not think about how immigration reform is in the news lately.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the majority of us have ancestors who were once immigrants or refugees.  For hundreds of years,  America has been a beacon of hope for others around the world as they dream of a better life.

Chung is a remarkable story teller.  He does an excellent job of explaining Vietmanese/Chinese culture to his readers.  The rules if their culture might not make sense to American readers,  but it is what kept the family alive.

One of the most inspiring topics in this book is the subject of faith.  The Chungs were one of the first families rescued by World Vision,  a Christian humanitarian charity.  While on the rescue boat,  Vinh ‘ s father listens to a sermon on Christ and begins to accept Him as his savior.  The entire family comes to believe that without Jesus they would have never been rescued.  Chung remarks on his faith and his family’s faith throughout the book.

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