March 27, 2014

A few books of note

As I chatted with a new friend recently, we got around to talking books. Both fans of sci-fi/horror, you'd think we'd have found some common ground in contemporary favorites quickly, right? 

But no. Not so much.

I struggled to come up with what I'd read recently and fell flat on my face. Authors she mentioned were frequently among those on my To Read list, but I hadn't read them yet. I grew a bit flustered, wondering...what the hell have I been reading lately?

Because I know I read stuff. All the time. Every day. Every night.

So I came home and looked at the stack of books beside my bed and remembered: when I'm writing (which I do pretty much all the time), I spend a LOT more of my reading hours on non-fiction! And I've read some pretty interesting NF books lately, so the time has come to share my notes. 

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

This book is fabulous. It tells the up-to-now mostly-unknown tale of a town that grew from nothing in Tennessee farmland, and became a central hub for enriching uranium during the height of the Manhattan Project. Following a handful of young women who left their homes and families behind to do their part to help the WWII war effort, the story is engaging and surprising. Most of the women had no idea what was being "built" in the rapidly-built factories rising from the mud and muck. 

I fell in love with these ladies, each of them working jobs they didn't fully understand, under constant surveillance, living in dormitories and "hutments" and making the best of a truly crazy situation. 

Kiernan's writing is light and easy, even when talking about some of the more technical details of the actual process of building an atomic weapon. I came away knowing much more about physics and chemistry than I knew before, and with a love for a city that, without the war, never would have been born.

Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower

Let's just say this story of the women who worked for the Nazi regime during the height of the Third Reich is chilling at best. Because ohmigod, the stories Lower shares about the brutalities committed by people who didn't have to are so, so terrifying, showing a world so indoctrinated into hate and destruction that I can't even fathom it.

The Nazi regime was a huge one, requiring a supporting cast of women working desk jobs, keeping homes and families operational, and providing expert nursing care. The problem came when the women working desk jobs typed up mass execution lists, sending thousands of people to their deaths without even a second thought. The terror lay in the hands of the nurses, "humanely" slaughtering via poison injections the weak and the ill as they lay in hospital beds. The fury came in the form of wives and mistresses, walking through ghettos and concentration camps with their men, taking part in the violence and the killing.

The stories are terrifying. One mother killed a group of Jewish children because she thought it was the right thing to do. Another woman working for the Reich rode through a ghetto, gunning Jews down. 

If I have a complaint about this book, it's this: Lower spends a fair amount of time talking about her research process throughout the book, which takes away from the actual narrative. She doesn't dig in as deeply to the individuals as I'd expect, but still: it's horrifying. 

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

I love this book. So much. The stories of hundreds of princess through the ages are compiled into one place, and these princess aren't of the Disney sort.

Women through the ages have held positions of power; how they got there and what they did with it is fodder for anyone's imagination. Some lied, cheated and killed; others were born into it, and their titles became the bane of their existences. Very few in the book led happy lives.

Following princesses from Ancient Rome through Egypt to much more modern times, McRobbie keeps things light and entertaining somehow, with a snarky, quirky style and a great sense of humor. I mean, if you can't joke about dismemberment, well, there's probably something wrong with you, am I right?

But the information here is intriguing, her research extensive. If you want a romp through history and royalty, I can't recommend this book highly enough. 


So there you have it. I do read. A lot. Just don't ask me to recommend fiction, because apparently that's not what I'm reading this week/month/year.


@IleneGold said...

I just bought Girls of Atomic City yesterday. Now I'm even more eager to read it. Thanks!

Leah said...

Yay! You've got to let me know what you think!!!

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