Monthly Archives: June 2010

“Have You Had a Little Taste of the Paint Yet?” A Review of Radium Halos: a novel about the Radium Dial Painters, by Shelley Stout

“I seen something strange. “Violet, did you paint your hair too?” “No. Of course not.” “Then how come there’s a halo around your head? Like there’s paint in your hair?”(Radium Halos)

Radium Halos 

Many women worked as dial painters at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois. Radium Halos, by Shelley Stout revolves around Violet and Helen Meisner who were enticed by their friend Clara Jane to join her in Ottawa, Illinois, to work at the Radium Dial Company where they would make excellent wages. It was the summer of 1923. Clara Jane already worked there and convinced them both to join her. The lure of good wages, to enable them to buy nice items for themselves hooked them. Knowing their father wouldn’t give his approval, the girls fabricated a story telling him they’d gotten jobs in a music shop in Ottawa. During that particular summer all three girls become entangled in a tragic mishap and a secret they all promise to take to their graves.

From the beginning Helen shares this story with the reader and the fate of her sister Violet. The book moves from past to the present day where it’s discovered Helen suffers from mental instability. Helen also enlightens the reader with some of the history surrounding the company. The women working at the Radium Dial Company would dip their brushes into the small jar containing the bluish-green luminous paint and “kiss the brush between their lips” to make the tip more pointed. It made the brush nice and sharp therefore easier to apply the paint onto the numbers on the clocks and watches which was called “tipping.” The clock dials glowed in the dark because of the radium paint.  Supervisors encouraged workers to do the procedure this way and even demonstrated it themselves. One supervisor even dipped a spatula into the paint and licked it to show it was safe. The female workers swallowed too much radium paint by following this procedure which resulted in many of them becoming sick and eventually developing cancer. In many cases it was jaw cancer. Eventually these women tried to receive money from the company to pay for their medical bills. These women were called, “The Ottawa Society of the Living Dead.” It began as early as 1934.

Radium dial painters working in a factory

The story progresses to modern day and Helen as an older woman is under the care of Violet’s daughter, Pearl. She has a son, Tony, and his girlfriend, Adrienne also play a significant part in the story. Eventually a letter is sent to her deceased sister, Violet, from the Argonne Laboratory. They are requesting her to go to be tested for radium exposure. Pearl is unaware of her mother or Helen ever working at the company.  Since Violet and Helen kept their job in Ottawa a secret, Helen is afraid to say she and her sister had ever been employed there. Helen is terrified their secret disaster will be discovered and she will have to pay the price alone.

I was drawn to this particular story on a personal note. I had two relatives who worked at the Ottawa Radium Dial Company. One was a great-aunt who developed cancer and died at a fairly young age. The family stories surrounding this always included the information on the “tipping” procedure. Another female relative also worked there. She eventually developed a mastoid tumor. She was one of the women contacted by Argonne Laboratory to follow up on with medical exams and her exposure to radiation levels. The Case of the Living Dead Women site is an excellent source for actual newspaper articles. There was also a play based on the Radium Dial Company, entitled, “These Shining Lives.”

Shelley Stout wonderfully recreates the history surrounding the Ottawa Radium Dial Company, the early 1900’s, and effectively ties it together with Helen and Violet’s story. The Radium Dial Company and the “Radium Girls” played a significant role and impacted health and the labor rights movement. The owners of the company knew of the effects of handling radium yet exposed these women to deathly danger.  Stout has skillfully and completely done her research on this subject.

Radium Halos is one historical fiction book you won’t want to miss!

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Best Book Club’s Top Ten Books 2001-2010!

Our book club has been together since June of 2001. What makes our group extra special is we’ve all known each other since grade/high school.  We’ve remained friends and shared so much over the years. In the spring of 2001 a few of us decided to form a book club since we were always discussing books we had read.  Our first official book discussion was in June 2001. The first book we discussed was, The Tall Pine Polka, by Lorna Landvik.

Fast forward to Spring 2010 – I recently read a book club’s favorite book list and thought it would be an excellent idea to pose this question to my friends. At our last monthly get-together we went through the entire list of books from the last nine years – Marcie is the record keeper! We went through each title. Some titles were easily added and others we needed to discuss a bit before they were included – for some reason they wouldn’t include one of my selections, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon – but it’s still one of my favorites! After we deliberated, the list was whittled down to “The Top Ten!” These ten books gave us great enjoyment to discuss in depth over the past nine years. Each one was quite special and very unique. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane as we briefly conversed about each of the titles. I think most of the books we decided upon would be found in other book clubs’ top ten.

I must share one story in particular with you. There is one title in our Top Ten that book groups would have a fabulous fun time discussing! For us it was, The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine, by Barbara Nowak and Beverly Wichman. Each month, a member chooses the book and the restaurant where we’ll discuss our book – we try to keep it easy! When, The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine, was chosen for our August 2004 selection we decided to do something different. We met at the member’s home who had selected the book. Each person was in charge of bringing a type of wine and a food pairing which was mentioned in the book. We essentially had our own wine and food tasting party but we also discussed the merit and value of what we all learned about wine from the book.  Needless to say, it was our longest get-together ever!  We all still laugh when we reminisce about “Saucy Sisters!”

Now onto Best Book Club’s Top Ten Books!

Bel Canto Bel Cantoby Ann Patchett

The Children's Blizzard  The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin

The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran-Foster

The Glass Castle The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

The Help The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

No Angel (The Spoils of Time, #1) No Angel (The Spoils of Time #1),by Penny Vincenzi

The Saucy Sisters' Guide to Wine (Saucy Sisters) The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine, by Barbara Nowak and Beverly Wichman

Water for Elephants Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

Happy Reading! We would love to hear what your book club’s top ten books would be!

Kathy Parker & Best Book Club

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“I Hereby Resolve To Kill Every Vampire In America.” (Abraham Lincoln,Vampire Hunter)

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

You might wonder was Honest Abe a major vampire hunter???!!!  That is the premise of Seth Grahame-Smith’s newest book.  I’ve lived in Illinois my entire life and Abraham Lincoln is the president I am most fascinated as evidenced by the many books I have read about his life. My favorite title is Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This serves a dual purpose because of my interest  to also read a good vampire book now and then – thanks to the Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyers and the Sookie Stackhouse Series, by Charlaine Harris (HBO’s True Blood is based on this series).  Grahame-Smith spins a yarn Abe Lincoln would have loved to have told himself since he was an excellent storyteller. Grahame-Smith shares with the reader The Introduction that he “obtained” Lincoln’s “secret journal” to help tell this story.

“Henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion.  I shall become learned in all things. I shall become a greater warrior then Alexander. My life shall have but one purpose. That purpose is to kill as many vampires as I can. This journal shall be where I write about killing vampires. No one other then me shall read it.” (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter)

Abraham Lincoln discovers at a young age his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, didn’t die from “Milk Sickness” but from a vampire. Upon learning this cataclysmic information he vows to avenge his mother’s death and decides to rage a war on vampires. He gathers information and trains himself to fight and destroy them. Over the course of time he eventually meets Henry Sturges who helps Lincoln to fully understand the significance of vampires in America and the role they will play later in Lincoln’s life, his presidency, and America’s Civil War. It’s revealed to Lincoln the importance of these following famous historical figures: Stephen Douglas, Edgar Allan Poe, Jefferson Davis, William Seward, plus others, and their part they play in regards to vampires.

I truly relished reading this book! Grahame-Smith has written an outstanding and superb tale. He winds his story between fact and fiction.  I liked that he followed the life story of Lincoln but throughout his existence, there are vampires found at varying times in his life. Of course much is fabricated (as I look over my shoulder for the nearest vampire) but he hooks the reader into possibly believing it to be the truth and not just a myth! This is what kept my undying interest throughout Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer!   Read, discover, and take pleasure in this irresistible story. 

“It turns out that the towering myth of Honest Abe, the one ingrained in our earliest grade school memories, is inherently dishonest. Nothing more than a patchwork of half-truths and omissions. What follows nearly ruined my life. What follows, at last, is the truth.” –Seth Grahame-Smith

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“Come with me,” Mom says. “To the library. Books and summertime go together.” (L.Schroeder)

I kicked off my summer reading extravaganza with two Young Adult books which were enthusiastically checked out by a steady stream of young teens that frequented my libraries on a regular basis during the school year. I felt the summer break was exactly the ideal time to seize the opportunity to read them – as well as a few other YA books!  It was a pleasure to devour both of them in a matter of days! Each story included a mystical element which grasped my attention.  Now I realize why many readers were drawn to these books. Uncover for yourself the mysteries that Schroeder and Alender have in store for you. These authors have an abundance of other stories to whet your appetite.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is a beautiful book in verse by Lisa Schroeder! I was easily and quickly drawn into Ava’s story. Her boyfriend, Jackson, has met an untimely tragic death based on a dare which Ava feels she may have influenced the outcome. As the story develops Ava’s parents and friends attempt to comfort and support her as she grieves Jackson’s death. One day Ava looks in her bathroom mirror and experiences a sensation which she believes is the ghost of Jackson attempting to contact her.  More and more Jackson is there in spirit when Ava is alone. She eventually tries to discover why Jackson’s soul cannot rest and what she needs to accept and resolve within her in order to move on with life. It seems that Jackson’s spirit will not be at peace until Ava finally discovers the key to the solution. I could easily appreciate and the popularity of this story with young adults and I look forward to your response!

I found, Bad Girls Don’t Die, by Kate Alender to contain exactly the right ingredients for a superb spooky paranormal story!  Alexis Warren’s hobby is photography and at the onset of the story she discovers and photographs a strange glow outside their home. The Warren family resides in a house with not only a great deal of fascinating history but also a possible resident specter who relishes inhabiting bodies and controlling them for its own purpose! Alexis is a teen whose thirteen-year-old sister, Haley, is beginning to act strangely and has a weird attachment to her doll collection. Early on you’ll discover Alexis feels as though she doesn’t fit in anywhere or with anyone at school – all that begins to change when Carter Blume turns his attention towards her. While this relationship blossoms the bond with her sister worsens – almost to the point Alexis fears not only she will be harmed but others as well. Alexis’ new friend Megan Wiley also senses danger when she is in contact with Haley as she also has a story that will unfold. Bad Girls Don’t Die weaves an interesting story intertwining all of these characters together to a climatic heart stopping ending!

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“Summertime, And The Livin’ Is Easy…”

This song, from Porgy and Bess, always comes to mind with the onset of summer break. Life tends  to slow down just a bit for me. Early mornings enjoying the birds and the wildlife while sipping our coffee or the late afternoons when it’s about that time to unwind and relax from the summer day’s activities are those moments of summer I treasure.  Most of all, summer gives me the time to devour all of those books I’ve been anxiously waiting to read.  No more having to wait until late in the evening after a busy day in the library – I can read whenever I want to!! So now that summer has arrived I have compiled my list of summer reads.  After deliberating what to put on this list, these are the ones I can hopefully read.  Over the years I’ve always shared my list with my friends and co-workers and now I’d like to share my newest list with all of you! Keep this list handy so when you enter a bookstore, library, or have your Kindle, iPad, Nook, (or whatever is your choice) you’ll think of my list as a handy guide!  Stay in touch and let me know if you’ve enjoyed any of these. Happy reading during this laid back time of year!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Ash Ash, by Malinda Lo

Bad Girls Don't Die Bad Girls Don’t Die, by Katie Alendar

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1), by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Blockade BillyBlockade Billy, by Stephen King

BloodrootBloodroot, by Amy Greene

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2) Catching Fire (Book #2, The Hunger Games Trilogy), by Suzanne Collins

The Darkest RoomThe Darkest Room, by Johan Theorin

Every Last OneEvery Last One, by Anna Quindlen

The First RuleThe First Rule, by Robert Crais

Guardian of the Gate (Prophecy of the Sisters, #2)Guardian of the Gate (Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy, Book 2), by Michelle Zink

The Girl Who Fell From the SkyThe Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow

The Good ThiefThe Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti

The Hand That First Held Mine The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O’Farrell

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors: A Novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, by Michele Young-Stone

How to Say Goodbye in Robot How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford (Currently Reading!)

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1) The Hunger Games (Book #1 of The Hunger Games Trilogy), by Suzanne Collins

I Heart You, You Haunt MeI Heart You, You Haunt Me, by Lisa Schroeder (Just Finished It!)

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg

Imago (Tales from the East, Book 2) IMAGO (Book #3 A Warrior’s Tale), by L.T. Suzuki

The Kitchen House The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

The Last Fix The Last Fix, by K.O. Dahl

The Little Stranger The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

The Murderer's Daughters The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers

One Minute to Midnight, by  Michael Dobbs

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

The Queen of Bedlam The Queen of Bedlam, by Robert McCammon

Radium Halos: A Novel about the Radium Dial Painters Radium Halos: A Novel About the Radium Dial Painters, by Shelley Stout

Remarkable Creatures Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier

The Shadow of the Wind The Shadow of the Wind, by Carolos Ruiz Zafon

The Story Sisters The Story Sisters, by Alice Hoffman

Tethered: A Novel Tethered, by Amy Mackinnon

The Three Weissmanns of Westport The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine

Tomato Girl Tomato Girl, by Jayne Pupek

Under This Unbroken Sky Under This Unbroken Sky, by Shandi Mitchell

The Wednesday LettersThe Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright

When Will There Be Good News? When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson

White Cat (Curse Workers, #1) White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

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“Oh Marie (Oh Marie) In Your Arms I’m Longin’ To Be (Longin’ To Be)!!”

Wonder why that’s the title of my review of Queen of the Big Time,by Adriana Trigiani?! If you’re an Italian AND a Louis Prima fan you find it mentioned in this story of an Italian-American family. I loved when I read in the book that the song, “Oh Marie,” was mentioned! Our family, when we all get together, love to put our favorite Italian songs on to sing along with.

Known and loved around the world for her sweeping Big Stone Gap trilogy and the instant New York Times bestseller Lucia, Lucia, Adriana Trigiani returns to the charm and drama of small-town life with Queen of the Big Time. This heartfelt story of the limits and power of love chronicles the remarkable lives of the Castellucas, an Italian-American family, over the course of three generations. (Goodreads.com)

Queen of the Big Time begins in 1924, in Roseto, Pennsylvania. We discover the story of Nella Castaluca and her family. Nella loves to read and wants to become a school teacher. It’s her dream and goal in life. Life does not always bring us what we hope and desire. This is Nella’s story. We learn how her family deals with adversities in life. Nella’s parents are such strong wonderful role models for her. It’s about Nella’s first love for Renato. To me there was a love triangle so to speak with Franco Zollerano.

Each main character was well developed. Nella’s family members were so real to me as well as their friends you meet throughout the book.

I was first drawn to this story because I’ve read other books by Trigiani. Secondly I’m 100% Italian: Vicini, Marchesi, Rozzati, & Guerrini! I could relate, associate, and connect with parts of the story which dealt with the Italian heritage. The food described in the book was so deliciously described! The sponge cake recipe. Homemade sausage and pepper sandwiches along with onions & crusty rolls. Also polenta and chicken stew cooked in a bagna! Just thinking of it makes my mouth water. All of these are staples in our family. I laugh to myself when a meal is described in the book – the order in which Italians eat a meal – the salad follows what you would call the main entree. I always eat my salad last!

Catholic religious rituals were prominant throughout. The Catholic ritual of lighting candles in front of the Blessed Mother and praying to her. Nella is young and doesn’t understand why events have happened. Her priest helps her to understand how important faith is. He explains “God protects us because he loves all His children.” Nella has a challenging and arduous time with faith until much later in her life. There is a point in time after she is older that she finally truly discovers faith when it is right in front of her. Then there are the countless saints we pray to for various reasons. We pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost articles. How many times has my mother said to me if something has been lost? “Pray to St. Anthony, he’ll help you recover what you lost.” Not only does St. Anthony help to find “items” but also to find what we’ve lost from within ourselves. That’s what Nella is searching for at one point in her life.

Family plays an important role in this story. The Castaluca’s are proud people as all immigrants who came to America they wanted a better life for their families. I know this for a fact because of my grandfather Joseph Marchesi. He came to America as a young boy of 11 years old. He worked in the coal mines. Through his hard work ethic he became a successful and well respected businessman in our community. He was so well thought of that upon his death, our family received a certificate from the governor of Illinois praising him of his contributions in life. This quote from the book exemplifies what I mean, “What you come from is who you are-it’s your starting place. To come from nothing and make something of yourself, to provide for a family, is no small feat.” (Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani)

I was sad when it came to the completion of Nella’s story. It felt as though I had lost a good friend. I was so moved by Trigiani’s book. I’ve told countless friends about it since I finished it. Early on, I read this wonderful quote from the book, “I wish I would have asked him what his favorite book is, because you can tell a lot about someone by the books he reads.” (Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani) I find this so true myself – hope you do as well!

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Fifth-Graders’ Share Their Favorite Books of Choice!

Thank you to Mrs. Wallin and all of her fifth-grade students for submitting this list to me to share with all of my readers!  I know you’ll enjoy reading what some of them had to say about the books. I truly liked the variety of titles presented below! They are quite a wonderful group of readers!

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass – submitted by – Haley S. “I liked it because it showed what some one else is doing in their life and to see how it is going.  It is cool that two people have a birthday on the same day and they did not think that they would have the birthdays together but they did.  It was cool to read!”

Allie Finkle Series, by Meg Cabot – submitted by – Rachel S. “The reason why I like these books is because I can relate to all the things that happen in all of the stories except the new girl part. I can’t wait for the 6th book in the series!” Also submitted by – Lauren C. “I love these books so much! Meg Cabot is my favorite author.  I don’t like reading but I love these books!”

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo – submitted by Madison V.

Blood Red Horse, by K.M. Grant – submitted by – Eva B. “I liked it because there are horses in it.”

Cirque du Freak Series, by Darren Shan – submitted by – Sarah C. “This was my favorite series because they were all very entertaining and I was always excited to read the next book in the series.”  Also submitted by – Chloe P. “It is adventurous and leaves you wanting to read more!”

Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn – submitted by – Daniel W., Dylan W. and Colton M. “I liked it because I like scary and mystery books.”

The Confession (Fear Street), by R.L. Stine – submitted by – Aaliyah N. “This was my favorite book of the year because my family and I watch Criminal Minds or Law and Order and the book is about murder.  This is R.L. Stine’s best book!”

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1), by Jeff Kinney – submitted by – Maxwell E.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series, by Jeff Kinney – submitted by – Kaitlyn K.

The Face on the Milk Carton (Janie Johnson, Book 1), by Caroline Cooney – submitted by – Sarah H. “ This was my favorite book because I love mysteries.”

The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1), by Holly Black – submitted by – Esmeralda C.

Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling – submitted by – Matilda E. “This is my favorite because J.K. Rowling takes you into the books and you can escape reality. I strongly recommend the series!”

Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library, by Eth Clifford – submitted by – Tom B.

Into the Wild (Warriors #1), by Erin Hunter – submitted by – Madi C.

Killer’s Kiss (Fear Street Series), by R.L. Stine – submitted by – Matthew P.

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli – submitted by – Greg S. “I liked it because it was full of adventure.” Also submitted by – Collin W. and Carmen T.

Nightjohn, by Gary Paulsen – submitted by – Raquelle D. “It was my favorite book this year that I read because it was telling about what happened back in the old times and I thought it was really interesting.”

The Nixie’s Song (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, #1), by Holly Black

The Perfect Date, by R.L. Stine – submitted by – Alli O.

Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot Vs the Jurassis Jackrabbits from Jupiter, by Dav Pilkey – submitted by – Auston J.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, by Eleanor Coerr – submitted by – Malorie P. “I liked this story because it explains what the bomb did to the country of Japan and what the radiation did.  I liked it because of the friendship that started but ended too soon. I liked it also because it is about a girl who has hope.  It is a really touching story.”

Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz – submitted by – Joshua B.

Series of Unfortunate Events Series, by Lemony Snicket – submitted by – Sean B.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1), by Rick Riordan – submitted by – Jamie G.

The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School, by Kenneth Derby – submitted by – Cole W., Chase M., and Paige H.

Tornado, by Betsy Byars – submitted by – Zach S.

Twilight (Twilight Series, #1), by Stephenie Meyer – submitted by – Kylie M.

The Unfinished Angel, by Sharon Creech – submitted by – Abigail H.

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