Book Review | The Radium Girls by Kate Moore


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My rating: 5/5 stars

NOTE: This book was sent to me upon request from netgalley.com. The novel will be available to purchase May 1st 2017.

“Ordinary women in 1920s America.

All they wanted was the chance to shine.

Be careful what you wish for.”

The Radium Girls is one of those rare works of non-fiction that reads effortlessly, because besides the artful prose and the meticulously rendered characters, the story itself beggars belief. How could a generation of hopeful, bright-eyed young women be mistreated in such a callous way by their work place? How could a well-known company encourage a young female workforce to ‘lick’ and ‘point’ the ends of paintbrushes that had been dipped into radioactive paint? I certainly didn’t believe this was true – until I researched and realised that yes, life can be stranger than fiction.

The book traces the long-forgotten, landmark case of various female factory workers who had contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials. The paint itself (mixed with radium – at the time, deemed a ‘wonder-drug’) seeped into the clothes, hair and very bones of the unsuspecting workers, until they began showing terrifying symptoms of anemia and necrosis.

Kate Moore’s novel is a tribute and an elegy to the working class girls who suffered horrendous agony at the hands of unapologetic capitalist corporations until they found a lawyer who was willing to fight back on their behalf. Moore spends time lovingly immersing us into the naive world of the girls, as they step into the world of work and become painters and artists. The glow of ‘undark’ gives their lives a Hollywood glamour they could only dream of. However the otherworldly light that clung to them like fairy dust is far from magical – unbeknownst to them it was the evil glow of death.

With every rise, there must be a fall. So Moore takes us on the tragic downturn of the girls’ lives, as she begins to paint with painful accuracy the onset of a series of agonising deaths that the mind finds hard to comprehend.

The history of these girls and their suffering resonated deeply with me. It is at once a heartbreaking tragedy and a true life ‘underdog’ story. At parts it evoked memories of Erin Brokovich, and there were moments when I saw it dove-tailing with Per Olov Enquist’s excellent novel ‘The Story of Blanche and Marie’; another incredibly vivid and saddening tale of how radium destroyed of the lives of Marie Curie and Blanche Wittman, her assistant.

When it comes to radium, one cannot help but be fascinated and horrified of it at the same time; especially the relationship has had with women. The Radium Girls is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Characters I’d Want on a Deserted Island With Me


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Summer holidays have begun, which means I can get a bit of blogging done! And what better way to start the season than with fantasising about which characters I’d like to be stuck on a desert island with. Here goes:

1. Hobbits – Don’t laugh… they are excellent hunter-gatherers! I won’t ever starve and they are also pretty laid back so no arguments there. Unless it’s about who does the cooking perhaps…

2. Rhett Butler – Tall, dark, handsome and extremely resourceful. Did I mention he’s tenacious too? That there man has got some mad survival skills. And he’s gorgeous to boot!

3. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights – If I can’t have Rhett, then Heathcliff will do. They are basically cut from the same cloth!

4. Ewoks – They are cute, can live in forests and I kinda have a secret dream off being like Snow White taking care of these little guys…

5. Four from Divergent – again I’m thinking of the deadly combo of survival skills and insanely hunky body. Yep, I intend to make good use of my time on that there island!

6. The Count of Monte Cristo – You can probably see a theme here. No need to justify it apart from the fact that Edmund has a desert island for himself and knows his way around one. Plus I’m a sucker from intelligent gentlemen. It will get boring on that island with just a hot body to look at.

7. Batman – I just think it would be great to get this guy on his own and try to figure him out. The Dark Knight is a bit of a sphinx, and he he can do with some sun to be honest!

8. Solid Snake – I’m breaking into video game characters here because to be honest, one of my biggest dreams is to learn how to shoot and survive commando style. Who better to train me than Snake himself!

9. Miss Havisham – I want to save this character, like truly save her from death. Having her on the island would allow me to do that. Plus, it would lift her out of her depression!

10. Gruffalo – Let the wild rumpus begin!!

That’s my weird list. What is your’s going to be?

2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 70,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top Ten Tuesday | Most Intimidating Books

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This meme is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the top ten most intimidating books that we all dread to read for one reason or another. Here is my list of titles:

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce – I will feel like a complete failure/idiot if I cannot get through this book in one sitting. Especially since it is THE most important book in modern literature. EVER. *shudders*
  2. The Waves by Virginia Woolf – Sometimes Woolf can be completely incomprehensible to me. Her writing is like a strange melody with a hidden beat. I have to hunt for the damn thing in all the dense foliage of her prose. ‘The Waves’ completely baffled me and I wound up running to the nearest exit to this weird labyrinth of fiction.
  3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – The sheer size of it puts me off. It lives on the shelf next to Milton’s Paradise Lost.
  4. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I really don’t know why people call this a great novel. Never really saw it myself. Intimidating when you can’t see what millions of others can.
  5.  Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – He is so awesome. ‘The Crying of Lot 49‘ changed my taste in books drastically. It was also one of the hardest damn books I’d ever read. What if I don’t get this one?
  6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – The books scares me (sheer size), Ayn Rand scares me (have you seen her?) OMIGOD.
  7. 2666 by Roberto Bolano – I have a love/hate relationship with Bolano. I keep expecting the same kind of pleasure I get when I read Borges but get confused when I don’t. Confused and angry. Not quite the same as intimidated, but…
  8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – So much controversy around this novel. What if I end up hating it? Will it cost me a well-respected author?
  9. House of Leaves by M.Z. Danielewski – I read this once before. I don’t think I’ll read it again anytime soon. I have never been so scared of words and the things they can unravel both within and without. Danielewski is king. I grovel at his feet.
  10. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King – A mammoth seven book series that I have only briefly dipped into. I don’t know if I can last the distance…

That’s my list of intimidating books guys. How about yours? Are there any above that scare the bejesus out of you? Would you add to the list?

Would You Like to Smell Like Your Favourite Author?

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What were the signature scents of famous authors?

Thanks to a post made at Book Riot, I got to thinking about my two favourite things in life: perfumes and books. I have a prodigiously large collection of both; yet it never occurred to me to find out what type of scents my favourite authors actually wore during their lifetime. Amanda Nelson of the irreverent book blog Dead White Guys came up with some cool concoctions of her own; and it inspired me to have a synesthete moment.

This is a bit of a tough mission, but one that yielded surprising results! Here’s what I have come up with so far…

4. ANAIS NIN

Some authors like Anais Nin have already inspired a perfume, so admired were they in their lifetime. Anais Anais was the first perfume produced by Cacharel in 1978. To me, it evokes the scent-memory of France, my mother and the sweet yet deceptive innocence at the heart of all women. I also adore the fresh green smell and the O’Keefe-inspired artwork that has been used for many decades.

Notes
Top: Bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, honeysuckle, orange blossom
Middle: Lily, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, carnation
Base: Cedarwood, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, incense, vetiver

3. OSCAR WILDE

What would a notorious super-dandy and aesthete like Oscar Wilde possibly wear as a perfume? Apparently the now discontinued (yet aptly named) Malmaison of Floris of London. It is described by experts as having a linear smell – that of almost purely red carnations. At first I couldn’t imagine a carnation as being Wilde’s smell, yet there is a certain exotic woodsy, clove-like aroma to carnations that does fit in with Wilde’s character. Red is certainly his colour too! The reintroduction of Malmaison Encore by Floris means people can relive the original fragrance in a more modern version.

NOTES

Top notes: bergamot, black pepper, cardamom
Heart notes: clove, nutmeg, rose, ylang ylang
Base notes : amber, cedarwood, frankincense, heliotrope, tonka bean, vanilla

2. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Many famous people including F. Scott Fitzgerald and later Marlene Dietrich wore Lieber Gustav #14. The perfume was created by celebrated nose Albert Kriegler and he states that ‘Perfume #14 was chosen by Fitzgerald because of its depth, and the connection between Berlin and Provence.’ I also find that scents hold geographical memories for me, yet even more interesting is that Lieber Gustav #14 was inspired by a love letter between a young girl and her fiancee… Reminds me of The Great Gatsby!

NOTES

Leather, Black tea, Lavender, Musk and Woody notes.

1. SIDONIE-GABRIELLE COLETTE

Colette is another author who is epitomises sensuality and whose work’s forever obsess with the gratification of the flesh and of the soul. She owned her own beauty salon and being something of a perfumer herself used only the petals of white flowers. However, it has been recorded that she had a particular penchant for Coty’s Jasmin de Corse, which is again very hard to find. A 1925 ad described it as, ‘For the Woman of the Dreamy Elusive Type: Jasmine de Corse, La Jacinthe & Lilas Blanc.’ I can only imagine the closest we can ever get to this perfume with it’s heavy, smoky Jasmine undertones would be Lanvin’s Arpege which was created 20 years after.

So, that’s all I could find on authors and their favourite fragrance’s. Is there any I’ve missed out that should be in the list? Let me know.

Book Review | ‘The Running Man’ by Stephen King

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The Running ManThe Running Man by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“He understood well enough how a man with a choice between pride and responsibility will almost always choose pride–if responsibility robs him of his manhood.”

I was only looking for an entertaining read, something I would’t have to take too seriously and one that I knew would take me away from the copious amounts of marking and grading I had to do at the time.

Let’s put it this way; I got more than I bargained for! This book is all the above and then some. I first met with ‘The Running Man’ in the 1980’s film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger  At the time it felt very much like an ultra-futuristic, distant, dystopian nightmare that thrilled a lot of people with its American take on Orwellian themes.

I am not a big Stephen King fan; at the best of times I have lukewarm respect for his innovative imagery and ability to keep his audience entertained and slightly crapping themselves in certain creepy scenarios. However, I think I have become something of a convert with ‘The Running Man’. Nowadays I feel like I’m a more mature reader, and I can definitely appreciate his scary powers of second-guessing what the near future holds for mankind; which this piece of work definitely showcases.

For anyone who like me, was sitting on a fence in regards to King’s quality as a novelist is at an advantage. If you have never watched the film, or heard about the book then you are in luck, reading ‘The Running Man’ will give you a very clear answer.

Personally, I read this from a post 9/11 perspective. The novel depicts a corrupted America, whose political and social infrastructure rests on rotten foundations. More sinister tones of ‘The Hunger Games‘ prevail across the continent, where the poor are nothing but forgettable pawns that can be used to entertain the rich.

“In the year 2025, the best men don’t run for president, they run for their
lives. . .”

As I said before, the novel contains many parallels to that dark period in American history. It reflects the current culture of the corrupted ‘American Dream’, which Chuck Palahnuik very aptly describes as being able to “make your life into something you can sell.” And what is ‘The Running Man’ if not the reality show turned nightmare? King takes the capitalist, materialistic, consumerist attitude of America and shows us what it can turn into.

The writing is addictive and the pace is wonderfully set. King shows off all his skills as the reader is roped into following Ben Richards; who reads like a ‘last of his kind’ type of Clint Eastwood character fighting to save his baby girl who is slowly wasting away in front of his eyes. As a last resort, he enters the ‘Games’; as this is the only way he will ever find the money to save his family from poverty. What ensues is a true roller-coaster account of his fight to survive the ‘Games’ and save his family.

Even though this sounds like a plot that has been done to death; I recommend everybody give it a try. You will be surprised how fresh and original King’s version of events will be.

View all my reviews

My Easter reads…


One of the perks to being a teacher is the nice holidays you get between terms. As we enter a two week Easter break, I’m planning to get some much needed reading done, and this is what my mini-list looks like:

Vanity Fair

A very big novel that I have been avoiding for a long time, but last night I took the plunge and I have to say, I am absolutely adoring it! Miss Rebecca Sharp is by far THE most interesting heroine I have ever come across. Unashamed, fearless and she knows her own mind.

The Stand

Another very big novel, yet vastly different from Vanity Fair! This was recommended to me when I first joined Goodreads. Ironically, I began reading it last month when I was in bed with a terrible cold – not good when the book is about a killer ‘flu epidemic that wipes out the world’s population!

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Started reading this a couple of months ago and had to stop because of work. Hopefully I’ll get round to finishing off this lovely story of a delightful boy who is extremely kind of heart. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get a feel for reading something with innocence in it. It brings me back to myself again.

That’s what my Easter break is looking like. Quite unusual where I’ve got two massive tomes and one little kiddies novel, but I’ve always done things in strange ways! In fact, I rather prefer a nice selection of different things, just in case I get bored and need a change.

What are you reading this Easter?

The Book That Cannot Be Read – The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript

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National Geographic explores the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript – an ancient tome discovered by chance in 1912 by the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich. This documentary explores the great lengths that have gone into trying to decipher the manuscript, which was written in cipher during the 17th century.

The book itself has many illustrations of plants and seems to be a scientific study into herbology. However, further research has shown that certain illustrations can be made to ‘move’ by spinning the book around, thus giving researchers the impression that it could have been an attempt to record alchemical knowledge. This, along with the astronomical, cosmological and pharmaceutical images has led many to associate the text with many ancient European doctors who were famed throughout history to have worked ‘miracles’ with their potions.

Many codebreakers and cryptographers have tried to crack the ciphers used in the book, including those from WWI and WWII; however the Voynich manuscript still remains one of the most mysterious books of all time.

Is the Voynich manuscript real, or a hoax? I guess we won’t know for a long time yet!

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 79,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.