Book Review, “Atomic City Girls”

As a child growing up in the ” nuclear age”, I have long been fascinated by the atom bomb and it’s development. At school I was aware of the latest “improvements” in the power of these bombs and there was the ever present threat that Nikita might push the button to start a nuclear holocaust.

Atomic City Girls lifts the lid on some aspects of the Manhattan Project. A secret City was built at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. Thousands of people were employed there and most had no idea what they were actually doing. The scientists had developed a means to separate U235 from U238 and this was the basis of the first atomic bombs. The process required close monitoring and adjustment of controls. I have worked in steelmaking where furnaces are controlled automatically by instruments capable of monitoring and controlling factors such as fuel flow, temperature, air quality and a hundred other things.

At Oak Ridge there were no such sophisticated control instruments. Just a meter and a knob. Hundreds of young women sat on stools, watching the meters and turning the knobs whenever the pointer strayed from its set point. They worked day and night in 10 hour shifts and had no idea what it was that they were actually doing.

Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard, is a fascinating insight into life at Oak Ridge. Although the characters are fictitious, they are very believable. The book takes you there. It reads like history and has been very well researched. There are many photographs depicting life at Oak Ridge.

S and I found this book hard to put down. We both learned much that we had not known before reading it. Further research confirmed the events described in the book. It is a very human tale and gives an insight into the mind of one scientist in particular, his misgivings about the work and his fears about what this bomb will do… if it works.

Altogether an enjoyable and satisfying read about a time and place that changed the world.

The Angel’s Game…book review

It is some time since I wrote a book review. You can blame Netflix, Britbox and Acorn for that. Just in time, a friend gave us a new book for our evening reading ritual that had somehow become degraded to watching the pixelled screen.

The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was translated from Spanish to English. The story is set in the late 1920s in Barcelona. David Martín is a talented young writer, with great expectations, hoping to become a famous author. He seals a deal with a publisher only to find himself locked into a contract that requires years of commitment under a pen name.

Some time later he is approached by a dark and mysterious stranger who offers him a way out of his contract if he will write a specific type of book for him. The plot involves two young women, an old and benevolent book seller, shady characters from the recent past and three rather nasty police officers among others.

David lives in an old house that contains many secrets that slowly emerge during the telling of the story. Interestingly, to me at least, is the inclusion of a classic car, a Hispano Suiza. An Australian TV series, Miss Fisher Mysteries also features a Hispano Suiza.

Back to the story. The climax of the story would make a good thriller movie and results in David escaping the somewhat ineffective arms of the law following the tragic death of the woman he loves.

The story closes with a twist that we did not see coming, yet it is hard to envisage a better ending. All in all, The Angel’s Game may not be our favourite book, but it was hard to put down and, on the whole an interesting and enjoyable read.

The Lake House, A review.

Years ago I saw a movie “The Lake House”. I think it was Sandra Bullock, about a couple who communicated across time. It was far fetched but enjoyable. When I discovered a book of the same name hiding in one of S’s cupboards, I thought it was the same story. But I was wrong……..

“The Lake House” by Australian Author Kate Morton turned out to be much more believable. The Mystery story set in Cornwall was so well described that both S and I felt as though we were there as we read it to each other. The mystery so compelling that we could not put it down until our eyes would no longer stay open or our tummies rumbled so much we had to stop and eat. Neither of us guessed the truth.

This is a realistic detective story, so many twists and turns and unexpected outcomes that it will keep you guessing until the end. And even then there are more surprises in store that leave you feeling satisfied that all turns out as it should in the end. The plot centres on a well to do family in 1933. 70 years later a detective on forced leave finds an old abandoned house and is compelled to investigate. She learns that a baby boy disappeared from the house without trace. There are many suspects but few answers. The story will take you through two World Wars, PTSD, murder, romance and tragic circumstances before you discover the surprising truth. It is a story well told without descending to sex scenes, foul language or even violence, yet all of these and more are implied.

I thoroughly recommend this one. One of the best novels of its genre that I have ever read.

“Gone Girl” a book review.

S and I had heard many times how good was the book “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.

We enjoyed the back and forth narrative, Nick in the present and Amy in the past. It makes for an interesting read, providing bits of background information just as they are needed to support the plot. We had no difficulty deducing that Nick had been set up by Amy in the first place, and never at any time thought that he was guilty of either an abduction or of foul play. On the other hand, Amy was obviously quite capable of playing this game that started on their 5th wedding anniversary.

The characters are well developed and memorable. Amy’s parents come across as people who don’t live in the real world, and in my opinion they are the true villains in this twisted, sordid tale. To say that they screwed their daughter is an understatement. Her obsessive controlling behaviour obviously influenced by her perfect alter ego, Amazing Amy.

The story is highly complex with many “aha” moments. We could not put the book down for many hours, reading late into the night. Amy is very clever, Nick has to learn quickly to think like his wife does, but still does not catch on to the end. By the end of the story I felt they both deserved whatever they got.

Amy keeps one last controlling twist to the end, however in my mind it all became far fetched and implausible. Previously it had been easy enough to believe that the story could be real, but in the end reality disappears.

The end, we found was disappointing, it left us feeling flat. A quick Google search revealed that many other people felt the same. Ms Flynn has challenged critics to come up with a better ending. She states there will not be a sequel, yet this book screams out that there should be a sequel.

I visualise Nick becoming so frustrated, filled with the desire for retribution and to regain his freedom that eventually he must do something drastic. He has learned well from his sociopath mentor Amy, surely he can outwit and outlast her in the end?

But then, does he deserve it?

Conclusion- We enjoyed reading the book, we probably will not bother with the movie. It was not an uplifting read, more disturbing, but still food for thought about our own relationships with our spouses.

I Suck at Girls, a book review

S and I enjoyed this book very much. We read parts of it to each other. The author is one of the world’s  great procrastinators and the basic plot is a review of his life as he decides if he should propose marriage after 4 years in a relationship.

The author, Justin Halpern, describes various stages in his development into adulthood. Along the way he receives advice from his big brother, his friends and especially his father, who is an extremely well educated man, a doctor of medicine and a university professor.

The book is written in a present tense style and it is easy to believe that you are there with him. The images he creates in the mind are vivid and realistic..

The language… is hard to believe that Justin’s father would speak the  way he does. He is as subtle as a bulldozer, sarcastic and foul mouthed. He is a kind man and means well. Poor Justin spends his life trying to come to terms with his sexuality without much success until finally he meets Amanda, the love of his life.

Justin worries about everything, he is uptight, naive and innocent about the ways of the world and how he fits in. There are many humorous moments and few flat spots. There are heart-rending moments where I wanted to  reach in and give him some advice myself.

While the book is written about the son, we found ourselves becoming just as intrigued by the father. Perhaps this is because we are also parents and grandparents. There is a lot written between the lines in this little book. We both had great fun reading it and laughed out loud many times. It achieves it’s goal, to entertain the reader.

We can’t wait to read his other book,  Sh’t My Father Says.

Small Boat to Freedom

To take my mind off my problems l like to read about other people’s problems and their solutions. Besides, l had always wanted to undertake a long voyage in a small sailboat ever since l read in high school how Kenichi Hori sailed from Japan to San Francisco shortly after WW2. However, l followed the same road as many such dreamers have, marriage and children tend to end such dreams. John Vigor, his wife June and 17 year old son Kevin, lived in South Africa during apartheid….


Although not supporters of apartheid, their house was graffitied by terrorists. The story unfolds about how the family had to overcome political, social and financial hurdles in order to make a new life in the USA. Their courage is understated yet it is clear that their decision was not an easy one. However, once the decision was made, they stuck to their plan and finally succeeded.

One thing I particularly enjoyed is the way John describes the places they called into. He tells something of the history of each place as well as their current experiences. I enjoyed how he compares their voyage with some of the intrepid voyagers of the past. John does not overwhelm the reader with technical details, although there are enough of these to satisfy the real sailors as well as those of the armchair variety. It is refreshing that John allows us into his emotional state. Many such tales omit to examine negative aspects such as how violently a small boat moves at sea, the effects of seasickness and fear, and the uncertainty of how they will be received at the end of the journey.

All in all it is a good read, with a happy ending….. And that is how it should be.


Safe Haven, a Book Review

Since arriving in Canada, I find I have plenty of time for reading. S and I enjoy reading together in bed. I enjoy reading to her and she enjoys listening, so it works out well! Our latest reading was “Safe Haven” by Nicholas Sparks. I believe the book was made into a movie, but I have not seen it. I am not sure I want to….

The story is set in Boston and Southport, North Carolina. It is an intense story of a woman who escapes from a brutally controlling husband, Kevin. Katie (not her real name) is portrayed really well and I had no problem in visualising her as the frightened, but brave and determined escapee, seeking to start a new life in a new town. Inevitably, romance comes into the story. Alex is the local storekeeper, a widower with a military background. The ideal man to defend Katie from her vengeful husband. Katie makes a friend, Jo, who encourages her to see Alex. There is a surprising and touching revelation at the end of the story.

Kevin deserves special treatment (and he gets it!). To any women thinking of committing to a relationship, please make sure that the love of your life is not like Kevin. Kevin is a possessive, controlling, obsessive abusive psycho. Yet Katie (real name Erica) fell in love with him and married him. Kevin did not reveal his true nature until the honeymoon when he hit her just because she left her sunglasses outside. I am guessing Kevin was raised by religious, strict parents, relatives, or others, it is not made clear. Unfortunately, such men do exist, they are not rare and many women become trapped in these abusive relationships. These men do not love. They control and punish. They are bullies.

Ladies, this book is worth reading if only to learn about abusers like Kevin. We skipped a lot of the details about Kevin. I just skimmed through and gave S a brief summary of those chapters.

Finally, the ending of the book has some interesting and touching twists that leave the reader satisfied and longing to read some more of Nicholas Spark’s novels.

The Dressmaker Book & Movie

Written by Rosalie Ham and adapted for the silver screen. I first saw the movie at the cinema and thought it was wonderful. The audience clapped at the end, which is rather rare these days. I thoroughly enjoyed it and later bought the dvd. The characters are well defined and very entertaining. A good mix of tragedy and triumph. The plot is believable and keeps you guessing until near the end and the ending is just brilliant…

Naturally, I thought the book would be just as good, if not better. Unfortunately I was wrong. I found the book to have too many characters and the plot was nothing like the movie. I don’t know if the author was involved in the movie production or whether or not she was happy with the changes. Overall, I am sorry to say I found the book rather boring. Maybe if I had read the book first, I would have a different opinion about the movie.

I guess I will never know.

The Light Between Oceans

I love to read a good book, not only does it take my mind off myself, it can take me to another place in space and time. I have just finished reading M. L. Stedman’s first novel, “The Light Between Oceans”. What a marvellous story. It begins with the unlikely event of a rowboat containing a dead man and a live baby, washed up on a beach on a remote island whose only inhabitants are the Lightkeeper and his wife.

The book took me to that island, even though it is a fictitious one. Stedman’s descriptive style creates a mental image that is so vivid. Her description of the workings of the lighthouse are so realistic that I wonder if she herself has been “on the lights”.

I liked her use of the present tense in her writings. It made me feel that I was there, a hidden observer as the characters struggle with a series of moral dilemmas that kept me wanting to read more. I could hardly put it down! She has created such believable characters that I now feel that I know them.

The ending of the book brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. You will have to read it for yourself as I have no wish to give it away.

Interestingly, the book was first published on my birthday in 2012! I congratulate Ms Stedman on her first novel and I look forward to reading more of her works.


Photo: Byron Bay Lighthouse, which features briefly in the book. Maatsuyker Lighthouse at the bottom of Tasmania also features. I have seen the “character” (the flash sequence) of both of these from out at sea! Such good memories help make life worth living….